I don't usually use my articles for politics or even much for current events or issues, but I'm inclined to share my thoughts on children's access to medical care. What brings this up for me is the recent experience of taking my nearly three-year old daughter to the ER after falling out of bed. As I sat there, waiting for a CT scan of my baby's head, I became angry. I was angry that there are parents out there who would have hesitated in the same situation, or worse, not have gone at all. I became angry that I was hearing across the curtains situations that would have been handled better and more quickly in an urgent care facility or personal doctor's office. I felt lucky that when they discussed with me the risks and benefits of the CT scan, no one had to factor in the cost to us – because we have insurance.
In the interest of full disclosure, I will reveal myself as a committed democrat with a healthy liking for President Obama. That said, as the mother of two young children and one who has relatively good insurance under the current system, I'm often conflicted on this issue, and like many, scared. And in all honesty, I haven't followed as carefully as I should the complex debates and issues like private vs. public plans, tort reform, preexisting conditions, insurance exchange and employer plans – mostly because when I do it makes me want to spit.
As someone with "good insurance," yes, I'm fearful of losing what I have, never more than after our recent experience. But it's simply not acceptable to me that any parents lack the options that I had in this situation. There is a lot of talk about catastrophic care – the ability of everyone to access care if they have a car accident, or are diagnosed with cancer, for example. But it doesn't take anything that dramatic to lead to expensive, unaffordable health care costs. My child simply fell off the bed – something that probably happens to thousands of children every night. Some hop right back in bed, some break bones, some hit their heads. Some children become dangerously dehydrated from simple stomach viruses. Some children are bit by dogs or allergic to bee stings or peanuts, some are hit in crosswalks by cars.
Parents need doctors to call, and advice to seek. Parents need a doctor with whom they can build a relationship, who can get to know their child. Parents need not to endanger their jobs by needing to take their child for an 8 hour ER visit because they have no access to office visits. Parents need to not fear bankrupting themselves in order to seek care.
Now I certainly don't have all the solutions. The problem is complex and there are many sides and priorities. But it's clear to me that those who need health care the most – the unemployed and their children, those with "pre-existing" conditions (which according to some sources may now include such insane things as the ability to bear children, or domestic violence), those living in dangerous or crowded living conditions, those without access to healthy, high-quality (or even acceptable quality) foods – have no access. When special interests and shareholder dividends take higher precedence in the health care industry than people's health, it's time to demand our leaders drop the rhetoric and partisan politics and create change.
I believe that there are currently national leaders with honest differences about health care and how it should be carried out. But I also believe that there are many on both sides of the aisle protecting their special-interest-padded war chests or playing politics with people's lives and their children's lives. I have no illusions that my family and I are among the lucky ones – my daughter's visit to the emergency room cost us $100 (above and beyond our premiums of course) and the treatment she needed was made available to us. The care was institutionalized and somewhat impersonal, but it was as efficient as possible, courteous, respectful, and most importantly, incredibly competent. I was worried about my daughter, not about how I would pay the bill or whether her care was compromised because of that ability to pay. At the very least, every parent and child deserves the same.
The problem is not my family, or our employer, or the doctors we met this week. And the problem is not small business owners, or stockholders or even insurance company bureaucrats. I think in general, most people want fair, equitable solutions, and are trying to do the right thing while marginally protecting their own interests. That's really all we can ask of those in the fray – we are all just doing our "jobs." But we are all trapped in a broken system, and it is our elected leaders whose job it is to rise above the interests of any one party, and make something work. It's impossible of course that everyone will be thrilled with the outcome – some will "lose" so others can "gain."
But one visit to the ER was enough to remind me that health care reform is not an abstraction – some reasonable (not just "catastrophic") level of everyday health care is simply a right, not a privilege and needs to start now, right now. We need our leaders to rise above political maneuvering and fundraising and do their jobs – to come to the table with honest concerns and agendas, not partisan positioning or rhetoric – or else go home. Our children are counting on them.
Come share your thoughts this issue and article in the Early Childhood Parenting Forum: Children and Health Care Reform Discussion