Thursday, February 27, 2014

Another Obamacare Tragedy

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has delivered himself of some strange and offensive statements over the years, but what he said yesterday takes the gold medal either for clumsiness or for unkindness, or both. In an attempt to discredit the Koch brothers, two wealthy magnates who fund Republican causes and candidates, he insisted that all of the many accounts of people losing their insurance under Obamacare are lies, and by inference, that the ordinary people who are suffering under the new law are themselves liars.

Here he is on the floor of the Senate:
Senator Reid could have alleged that some of the stories may not be completely accurate, although the one's he cites have received pretty strong confirmation. In fact, though, the senator claims that all these people are liars. He's willing to besmirch and libel innocent people in order to get in a few shots at his political opponents. This is not the behavior of a good and noble man.

I can't vouch for the veracity of every single one of the stories that have been publicized over the last couple of months, but for the Majority Leader to call these Americans, people who are in some cases in deep despair because of the effects of the legislation he and his party passed, is itself, it seems to me, a sign of desperation.

In any case, here's an account that's typical of those that are emerging almost daily of a genuine tragedy wrought by the Affordable Care Act which Senator Reid has been instrumental in foisting upon the nation. I wonder if he thinks this story, too, is a lie. It's written by a man who is the president of Ralston College in Georgia:
When my mother was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer in 2005, when she was 49, it came as a lightning shock. Her mother, at 76, had yet to go gray, and her mother's mother, at 95, was still playing bingo in her nursing home. My mother had always been, despite her diminutive frame, a titanic and irrepressible force of vitality and love. She had given birth to me and my nine younger siblings, and juggled kids, home and my father's medical practice with humor and grace for three decades. She swam three times a week in the early mornings, ate healthily and never smoked.

And now, cancer? Anyone who's been there knows that a cancer diagnosis is terrifying. A lot goes through your mind and heart: the deep pang of possible loss (what would my father and all of us do without her?), and the anguish and anger at what feels like injustice (after decades of mothering and managing dad's practice, she was just then going back to school).

We, as a family, were scared and angry, but from the beginning we knew we would do all we could to fight this disease. We became involved with fundraising for research, through the Caring for Carcinoid Foundation in Boston; we blogged; we did triathlons (my mother's idea) and cherished our time together as never before.

Carcinoid, a form of neuroendocrine cancer, is a terminal disease but generally responds well to treatment by Sandostatin, a drug that slows tumor growth and reduces (but does not eliminate) the symptoms of fatigue, nausea and gastrointestinal dysfunction. My mother received a painful shot twice a month and often couldn't sit comfortably for days afterward.

As with most cancers, one thing led to another. There have been several more surgeries, metastases, bone deterioration, a terrible bout of thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid gland), and much more. But my mother has kept fighting, determined to make the most of life, no matter what it brings. She has an indomitable will and is by far the toughest person I've ever met. But she wouldn't still be here without that semimonthly Sandostatin shot that slows the onslaught of her disease. And then in November, along with millions of other Americans, she lost her health insurance. She'd had a Blue Cross/Blue Shield plan for nearly 20 years. It was expensive, but given that it covered her very expensive treatment, it was a terrific plan. It gave her access to any specialist or surgeon, and to the Sandostatin and other medications that were keeping her alive.

And then, because our lawmakers and president thought they could do better, she had nothing. Her old plan, now considered illegal under the new health law, had been canceled.

Because the exchange website in her state (Virginia) was not working, she went directly to insurers' websites and telephoned them, one by one, over dozens of hours. As a medical-office manager, she had decades of experience navigating the enormous problems of even our pre-ObamaCare system. But nothing could have prepared her for the bureaucratic morass she now had to traverse.

The repeated and prolonged phone waits were Sisyphean, the competence and customer service abysmal. When finally she found a plan that looked like it would cover her Sandostatin and other cancer treatments, she called the insurer, Humana, to confirm that it would do so. The enrollment agent said that after she met her deductible, all treatments and medications—including those for her cancer—would be covered at 100%.

Because, however, the enrollment agents did not — unbelievable though this may seem — have access to the "coverage formularies" for the plans they were selling, they said the only way to find out in detail what was in the plan was to buy the plan. (Does that remind you of anyone?)

With no other options, she bought the plan and was approved on Nov. 22. Because by January the plan was still not showing up on her online Humana account, however, she repeatedly called to confirm that it was active. The agents told her not to worry, she was definitely covered.

Then on Feb. 12, just before going into (yet another) surgery, she was informed by Humana that it would not, in fact, cover her Sandostatin, or other cancer-related medications. The cost of the Sandostatin alone, since Jan. 1, was $14,000, and the company was refusing to pay.

The news was dumbfounding. This is a woman who had an affordable health plan that covered her condition. Our lawmakers weren't happy with that because . . . they wanted plans that were affordable and covered her condition. So they gave her a new one. It doesn't cover her condition and it's completely unaffordable.
You can read the rest at the link. There are doubtless some people who are benefiting from Obamacare, to be sure, but is it justice to help those who are benefiting by taking away from others, like this woman, the insurance she had and causing her to suffer? Is it justice to promise people repeatedly, as the President did, that if they liked their insurance plan they'd be able to keep it while at the same time making many of the plans that people had and liked illegal under the new law so that people couldn't keep them? That's not justice. It's cruelty.