In 1993-94, when Bill and Hillary Clinton tried to set up a national healthcare program, the current program was clearly heading for trouble but still managing to do the job for almost everyone, one way or another. That's no longer the case.
Something struck me at the end of the Yearly Kos panel, "Your Money or Your Life: Healthcare in America." The panel started with a short video about a lady who turned up with breast cancer. She had the operation and started on chemotherapy but couldn't finish the course because her family lost its health insurance. She subsequently turned up with metastases and died.
During the session one of the panelists quoted a statistic that patients with breast cancer (at some stage on the sad path of the lady in the video) have a 50% survival if they have insurance, 30% if they don't. (Anyone who can flesh that statistic out with details and a reference, please do.) But it convinced me that the lady in the video was no fluke.
I remember that years ago, 60 Minutes on CBS tried to do a similar story. I think it was during the push for a national healthcare system in the first two years of the Bill Clinton administration -- 1993 or 1994. Back then, I'm sure CBS looked hard for a similar story in which someone died or was going to die for lack of health insurance. They obviously didn't find one. The most newsworthy case CBS could find was a lady who'd had a brain tumor, who had also run out of insurance in the middle of her treatment. As I remember she required several brain operations, followed by chemo or radiation -- but she got all that. Either the institution that had started her treatment felt obliged to finish it, insurance or not, or some 'charity' hospital pitched in, or both. The 'system' didn't let her down until her tumor was treated as fully as they knew how. Where it let the patient down was on cosmetic reconstruction. She was left with a distinctly funny shaped head and wanted plastic surgery to try to make it look more normal.
One of the panelists yesterday, Dr. Claudia Fegan, said of health care reform, "Failure is not an option!" In 2007, she's right. Back in 1994 people who 'fell through the cracks' were usually caught in the 'safety net'. Now it's obvious the cracks are much wider, and the deluge of patients who've fallen through those cracks has torn the safety net to shreds. Frankly, I didn't realize that until yesterday. I spoke briefly to some of the other doctors at the panel, and I don't think most of them have been practicing long enough to realize the 'safety net' ever worked. As the fossil who's been in practice 28 years, I had a longer historical perspective.
In 1994, the Clinton/Clinton health care reform package was an attempt to head off an impending disaster. It was shot down, but the marvelous economic growth during the Clinton administration headed off the disaster -- temporarily. Now, with a sickly economy thanks to Republican misrule, that disaster is upon us.
Failure is no longer an option.