Thursday, July 24, 2008

Let's Hear It for Health Care, NOW!!!!


Here's a heartbreaking health care story for you, and one more good reason why Americans need a solid, affordable national health care plan.

The story comes out of Bartow, Florida, near Tampa. It was reported by Tampa Bay's Channel 10 (TV) news.

A young woman named Caitlin Jackson, age 19, was recently diagnosed with a rare brain disorder called Chiari Malformation. The condition gives Caitlin horrible headaches and unpredicatable (and dangerous) fainting spells. Down the line, the disease could destroy her motor skills and her memory and maybe even end her life prematurely.

"I constantly have to have somebody around me. I can't even stay at home for five minutes," Caitlin told TampaBay 10 News' Melanie Brooks.

Caitlin's condition required immediate brain surgery, and she was scheduled for it.

In fact, she was just a few hours away from getting it. Then what happened is what so often happens in the world of modern American Health Un-Insurance. The insurer --Aetna-- began its "Do Not Want to Cover anything that costs money" dance. At first, Aetna dragged its feet approving the operation. When the OK finally came, it was 15 minutes too late. Caitlin had lost the operating room to another patient and had to be rescheduled.

Worse things were in store, however. Aetna changed its mind! The company informed the Jackson family that they would not cover her brain surgery at all, that somehow her benefits -- along with her luck-- had run out.

So what was the family to do? They faced a stunning $113,000 hospital bill if they were going to pay on their own. Get this: the hospital, Tampa Bay General, wanted a whopping $55,000 down, and the rest after the operation. Yeah, sure folks, let me get my checkbook.

Finally, after Tampa Bay’s 10 News brought the issue to the fore, Aetna reversed itself once again and Caitlin had the surgery she needed. Apparently, it was a successful operation.

Unfortunately, the media isn’t always around to embarrass health insurers into doing what they should be doing.

That’s why a revamping of the nation’s health insurance system is so urgent. Earlier this month, a new campaign supported by a number of progressive and labor organizations got underway to press for a national health care plan.


The group, Health Care for America Now, was launched on July 8th, with activists in more than 50 sites around the U.S. joining leaders in Washington, D.C. In the spirit of full disclosure, I will say that one of those leaders in D.C. is Richard Kirsch, my husband, and the National Campaign Manager for the progressive coalition.

Health Care for America Now is made up of more than 100 organizations and received its initial funding from 13 groups that are part of its steering committee as well as an impressive $10 million grant from The Atlantic Philanthropies. Members of the steering committee include, the American Federation of State Community and Municipal Employees, the National Education Association and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, among others. (A full list can be found on the group’s website,

HCAN is not taking a specific stand — not yet anyway — on the health care proposals offered by presidential nominees McCain and Obama, but it is pretty obvious that the impetus to guarantee affordable health coverage for all Americans lies far heavier in the Democratic fold. Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former presidential candidate John Edwards, is perhaps the most visible supporter of the new organization.

Elizabeth Edwards is a strong health care reform advocate. The fact is there are millions of health insurance horror stories out there. And they aren't going away.

So let's all say a prayer today for those people like Caitlin Jackson who are fighting with insurers to get the treatment they so desperately need. And let's say a second prayer, or better yet, let's start writing letters and lifting our collective voices, so that all Americans get the health care they so rightly deserve!

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