Monday, September 21, 2009

Our Experience With "Socialized Medicine"!

It is September, 2009 and President Obama is active in pursuing health care reform legislation. I present the following blog as that this personal story certainly has context that is pertinent to this current issue. I will tell the account by simply presenting the facts of our personal experience with "Socialized Medicine". Borrowing a tag line from a particular news channel, "I Report... You Decide"!

As with our first two children, our third child was delivered at home. Why we chose home birthing will be another story. We were by all accounts having a very easy birth process. As our baby boy emerged into the world, all looked very well, he was alert, and like the others did not even cry and was at peace. As I presented the baby, with umbilicus still attached, into mamas arms, we noticed that indeed there was something gravely wrong. I recognized the leathery patch about the size of a silver dollar on the babies lower spine as something we had seen years before with our niece. Our little baby was born with Spina Bifida.

This spinal defect occurs early during the pregnancy and is often hereditary. Although it appeared that the baby had good movement in both legs, we knew that a defect at this level of the spine could have impact to his lower extremities. It presented no immediate emergency threat, but we were on the phone right away to our local general practitioner, he immediately recommended we head for Children's Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Now it had been planned that my mother would be present for this birth, but she and her husband showed up an hour late after their three day trip from California. So Grandma and Grandpa would now be baby sitters our two other boys while we took our new baby for care. After speaking with Children's Hospital we bundled up our newborn, protecting the lesion as they recommended and headed for Little Rock. Within a couple hours after Sue delivered the baby we were on our way to Little Rock via our personal vehicle on a 3 hour trip to Little Rock.

Checking in to the Children's hospital required a very minimum amount of paper work, and our baby was admitted straight away to the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit. He would be scheduled for two surgeries. The first surgery would be to close the lesion on the spine, and the second surgery would be to place a Ventral Peritoneal Shunt that would assist in draining fluid from the cranium into the abdomen. (Most Spina Bifida cases will require a shunt to assist in draining excess fluid from the cranium).

Now excuse me for not providing the name of the infant.... His name is Brian, but at that time, we had yet to choose a name, thus I am referring to him simply as our baby.

We spent several days at the Ronald McDonald house across the street from the hospital making our stay much more comfortable. This was quite a blessing, as we did want to be near the hospital, and really could not afford to be staying in a hotel room.

The surgeries went well, but we would not know for months and even years as to the full impact of our babies spinal defect. As the doctors read the list of possible impacts too this child's life, all we could do was hope for the best. As the day of discharge from the hospital approached, we began to be concerned as to how we were going to survive financially as we knew that this stay in the hospital would be tens of thousands of dollars.

Now our current situation was this... Despite being employed as the Director of the Respiratory Therapy in our small town hospital, we could not afford the health insurance. Some may find this a bit hard to believe, but without revealing the meager wage at which I was employed at the time, I believe that you may soon understand.

It is discharge day.... We figure we better head down to see a financial counselor to explain to them that we were going to have a very difficult time in paying for this hospital experience. The nice lady pulled up our records and after a few seconds she said, that we had nothing to worry about... Our income was in the "poverty level" and that the hospital stay and the surgeries would all be mostly covered by Medicaid. We were surprised and speechless. As we left, we felt like we better hurry before they find that they had made a mistake...

When I returned back to work, the Hospital Director called me in and expressed his concern for our baby and how he hoped all had turned out well. He also stated that he was aware that I did not have any health insurance, and was wondering how we would be able to take care of this incident. I explained to him that fortunately, you pay me at a pay level as Director of Respiratory Therapy, that places me in the poverty range. Medicaid was covering most of the expenses. He looked dumb-founded.... He said he could not believe that. All I could say is that is the way it is. Even after this, I did not get a raise...

It does seem a curious matter to me that an allied health care worker with three years of specialized training, and 15 years experience, working as the director of a hospital department is making such a low salary that he cannot afford health care insurance for his family. In fact it is poverty level of pay. An extraordinary situation indeed.

Brian is now 21 years old and is living in Fayetteville, Arkansas. He still receives some benefits from Social Security Disability and will continue to rely on Medicaid. He has part time employment. He is doing very well, but has required 2 surgeries to repair a failed shunt. He has some minor impact to his lower motor skills, but overall does very well.

I am no longer employed as a Respiratory Therapist, and found staying home and designing web sites provided a better income than the hospital could pay. My wife and I now have health insurance through her employer. The insurance is reasonably affordable with our two incomes and we have overall been pleased with the coverage. We know that this is not the case for many. Reflecting back, I am very pleased that the Medicaid program was in place as is our son Brian.

Take the time to leave a comment, or tell your own story.

Some useful links.
Spina Bifida Association
Arkansas Children's Association
Ronald McDonald House Charities
Medicaid Program
Social Security Disability Program


Cole Morris said...

Mike, that is a perfect example of why it is imperative that we have health care available for everyone.

We went through a similiar situation with my brother if you recall. Even after the settlement money and our rather descent medical coverage, there we no way my parents could afford to pay for the extensive attention he required. My father who made much more than the average college graduate at the time was forced to make a lot of very hard decisions and the repurcusions still haunt them to this day.

I just wish people could hear stories like ours, look at the facts of how much more we spend than other countries on healthcare and receive lower quality care, and be able to make the right decision for everyone. It is very likely that we will all spend a lot less on healthcare and yet still cover everybody in the country at the same time. Sounds like a "win-win" situation to me, but to others it's not so obvious.

Ordie O. said...

Thanks for posting this, Mike. It's an excellent example of the rampant crack-slipping in the US regarding health care.