COMMENTARY: A congressman recently made the incredible comment that nobody dies due to a lack of access to health care. Think for a moment about your own situation. Where would you be without some sort of health care?
The congressman’s statement was ignorant and callous, as well as being far from true. Politifact didn’t agree with it.
When Politifact contacted the congresssman’s office, his staff pointed them to a Facebook post where he explained his remark the following day and accused the media of only focusing on a few seconds of a longer discussion.
“During ten hours of town halls, one of my answers about health care wasn’t very elegant,” the congressman wrote. “I was responding to a false notion that the (proposed) health care plan will cause people to die in the streets, which I completely reject. … In the five-second clip that the media is focusing on, I was trying to explain that all hospitals are required by law to treat patients in need of emergency care regardless of their ability to pay and that the Republican plan does not change that.”
However, Politifact said, even if you buy the argument that emergency room care would protect the uninsured, that leaves out a whole range of chronic and potentially deadly diseases — from heart disease to diabetes — that can be prevented only through long-term access to physicians.
We asked some of our Joy Junction guests what they thought of the statement, and whether they had ever been affected by lack of health care, or known someone who had died because of this issue.
One person responded, “The congressman that made that statement has never had a lack of money to pay for the doctor visits, and never had to get a form for Medicaid and wait to see if he is able to go to the doctor. Not a lot of people want bills from the doctors building up against you on your credit report.”
That individual added, “A lot of hospitals do not like to see homeless people.”
Sophia said the congressman’s statement isn’t true. She recalled her brother’s plight after being diagnosed with Mounier-Kuhn Syndrome, with symptoms ranging from minimal, with preserved lung function, to severe respiratory failure.
Sophia added, “He had worked all his life, and once he couldn’t work he applied for the Medicaid indigent fund in order to go to all the best doctors and he was not approved until after he died.”
Another individual called the statement “a good example of how much our government is completely out of touch and unaware of the real issues at hand.”
One woman said she would like to know on what facts the congressman based his statement.
She continued, “Obviously he has never been denied health care because he is able to afford health insurance. I… wouldn’t try to receive health care when I didn’t have insurance for fear of being denied.”
She added that she is aware of people who have been denied.
Stephanie called the statement “inaccurate and ignorant.” She added that it’s easy to speak like that if you have private health insurance or health coverage through your employer.
“Those that do not have insurance refuse to seek medical attention at all, because they are afraid of how they will be treated and (fear) they will end up with heavy medical bills,” she said.
Stephanie recalled the story of her cousin who had no private health care or Medicaid. Despite becoming very sick, she still didn’t want to take health care, not wanting to burden her family with bills. Admitted to the hospital when found passed out in the street covered in blood, it was too late. Tragically, her condition was past the point of receiving the medical care that could have earlier helped her.
Stephanie continued, “She had breast cancer in both of her breasts the size of baseballs. The doctor said if she had sought help earlier, they probably could have treated her and saved her life. She died within two weeks of being admitted. If she had health care, she probably would have sought medical coverage help and might be alive today.”
Drew said when her mother became really ill, she had to retire from work. She went to medical care providers where they were initially unable to diagnose her with anything.
At the end of her battle, Drew said, she was finally diagnosed with the bacterial borne infection Lymes Disease.
Drew added, “I feel that the way the hospitals and doctors handled my mother’s situation was improper and unfair — just because she couldn’t afford it. She suffered a great deal and was given the runaround. Overall, I have seen health care providers and doctors treat people unfairly.”
Diana called the congressman’s statement poorly thought out and untrue.
“Ignorance is bliss, they say, and for a rich politician it is easily to be blind to the fact that many people who have general assistance or no coverage have died,” she said.
One woman said she’s been fighting health insurance and hospitals for years just to get the right medication for her illness.
While waiting, she said, her illness is getting worse and she experiences ongoing pain.
One person talked about problems experienced even by those with private or government insurance.
“(Individuals) on Medicaid, Medicare and regular health insurance need prior authorization or a referral just to see the doctor, when and if you are able to get the appointment,” the person said. “You also have to get approval for the medical services needed. Once this is approved, you will then need to get your meds approved also. Depending on the cost of your meds will determine if they are covered.”
That’s a referral to a nasty insurance practice called step therapy, which hurts patients by restricting access to the right treatment.
As one website says, “Health plans require patients to attempt treatment with one or a series of less expensive therapies, in order to show that they are ineffective before the insurance company will agree to pay for the medication prescribed by their doctor.”
So what do I think? It can be wrapped up sadly and simply. People have been dying through lack of access to health care, and it doesn’t look like the situation is going to get any better. However, while that’s a depressing outlook, we all need to remember that God is still in control.
Jeremy Reynalds is founder and CEO of Joy Junction Inc., a faith-based nonprofit church organization dedicated to helping homeless men, women, children, and families in Albuquerque by providing food, clothing, shelter, and safety. Agree with his opinion? Disagree? NMPolitics.net welcomes your views. Learn about submitting your own commentary here.