Columns 2016

Hawker’s health care

From the December 31, 2015 ADN, here’s part of what State Representative Mike Hawker said about his retirement. “I’m 60 years old. I am beating terminal cancer. And I am fully vested in my retirement health benefits.” Wow. That came out of the mouth of a Republican. At the top of his list of reasons that he can now retire despite health problems is that he is fully vested in his retirement health benefits. I guess health care coverage is important when you’re sick and fighting for your life. If only there was some way to ensure that all people had that cushion in their lives.

The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare, is certainly not a perfect solution to anyone’s problem with getting, keeping and being able to afford health care coverage. The rising rates in Alaska for buying that insurance are clear proof of that. But the need for health care coverage is also very clear. And Representative Hawker’s statement is further proof that this is a topic that tends to sit high on the list of issues people wrestle with on a daily basis. There’s not much else that matters after a cancer diagnosis other than getting to the care needed to eliminate the risk. Hawker can retire because between now and Medicare, he’ll experience no gap in coverage.

Republicans bitch and moan about Obamacare, but I have yet to hear a viable alternative from them. Clearly they understand the need for health insurance. Every one of our senators and representatives on both the state and national level has what amounts to the Cadillac of health care plans. Our vets should be so lucky. Or the majority of the middle class that struggles to make ends meet and stay healthy so hospital and doctor bills won’t bankrupt them.

Part of the problem is that America is the last civilized country on earth that allows everything from health insurance to drug prices to be for profit. The money any given pharmaceutical or health insurance company makes simply fulfills its requirement to provide profit to shareholders. The fact that those profits come on the backs of the sick and dying, the most vulnerable of our youngest and oldest citizens, is a national disgrace. The fact that a CEO can raise the price of a life saving drug 5000% and justify it as making a profit for his company should have us hanging our heads in shame. The profits made by these companies that get rich on the illness and death of your friends, neighbors and family is simply obscene.

Stories appear in the paper on an almost daily basis comparing health care costs in America to health care costs almost anywhere else in the world. We always come out looking pretty bad. A friend of mine went to India to have her cataract surgery because she figured out she could pay for it out of pocket, see India, spend a week in what seemed more like a spa than a hospital, and it would not cost her much more than her deductibles in America.

We are the richest country on earth despite all attempts by the uber-rich to bankrupt the middle class. No one in this country should suffer from hunger, cold or illness. While there are restrictions on what we can do for those who cannot help themselves either through mental illness or addiction, that is no excuse for not providing basic health care when needed. As someone who once worked in an ER as a nurse, let me be very clear that emergency rooms are not a substitute for doctors’ offices. In fact, many people are only in an ER because they lacked access to health care that would have allowed them to manage their illness before it reached ER status.

Mike Hawker has it right. When you are ill, your health insurance is one of the most important things in your life. Hawker is able to access some of the best treatment available for his cancer because he has a health care plan that will pay for it.

Health care should be available to everyone. Neither health care nor the cost of getting health insurance should bankrupt anyone. And no one should be making a profit off of your diagnosis.  If Obamacare isn’t the answer, then I’d sure like to hear what Republicans think is.