Gary Horton: Talking health care sanity


This past Monday evening I shared a delightful dinner with fellow Signal columnist James de Bree, his charming wife, Teresa, and his incredibly inspiring daughter, Kristina.

Here’s proof that people from opposite political spectrums can peaceably break bread and exchange ideas without all the drama and dysfunction we’ve learned to accept as “normal” in political discourse.

Daughter Kristina quickly captured the evening’s discussion. Thirtyish, she’s suffered from cystic fibrosis most her life, and for much her life it defined, limited, and depressed her.

Breaking through all her challenges, Kristina earned undergraduate and graduate degrees and now is a practicing Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist working with children and soldiers who’ve suffered PTSD.

Meanwhile, Kristina herself remains ill with a terminal disease and bravely pushes forward. Facing challenging and shortened years, she’s helping and curing people and making change for the better all around her. Kristina de Bree is simply inspirational and boundlessly courageous as she makes a big difference in lives.

But Kristina is very ill. And she needs health care – lots of it.

Jim told us of a time when he worked at a giant national accounting firm long before Obamacare. Things were shifting at his company, and for a time he faced big-time anxiety that he might be laid off.

The “laid off” worry wasn’t so much about the job – Jim is a master in his field. It was about Kristina ’s cystic fibrosis and that no health carrier would insure her should he lose his health coverage at his existing firm. Prior to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) most all health-care policies had a flat-out denial of coverage for any substantial pre-existing health conditions.

In other words, “Lose your job, go broke trying to pay for needed health care.”

And back then, hundreds of thousands, millions of Americans did empty their bank accounts, and did go broke, just paying medical bills after insurance companies cut them off. Oh, how quickly we forget those things that tormented us.

Steve Lunetta, another respected Signal columnist, also has a family member with a serious pre-existing condition that would be excluded under old policies. My own family had Jacobs Ataxia, a terrifying genetic death sentence.

Back then our own government advised against genetic testing as confirmation of the disease would lead to cancellation of insurance policies. Incredible, from an advanced nation.

Prior to the ACA, American health care was defeating our own citizens. If nothing else, the ACA put an end to the pre-existing condition and policy cap nightmares that so many suffered.

Today, right before our eyes, our nation plays manipulative photo-opportunity politics with health care. Right now, Washington is in a head-long sprint off a health-care cliff to get a haphazard “repeal and replace Obamacare” bill signed for the purpose of “fulfilling a campaign promise.”

Not a serious analysis and response toward improve healthcare, this bill will simply gut health care completely for tens of millions of Americans and reduce it for others. What’s been disclosed so far is a step backward for a good chunk of Americans while offering not much upside for everyone else.

Every other advanced nation, and quite a few poor ones, afford universal health care for their citizens. Universal health care seems a signature feature of civilized countries.

Yet the U.S. stands alone in its profiteering health care against its people. The U.S. stands alone with national politicians willing to inflict immeasurable suffering onto its own people to rally their fringe.

Of all things a nation does, the health care of its people should be non-politicized. Health care should be viewed as an investment in citizens, and an investment in productivity and efficiency. Instead, our illnesses become profit targets to be exploited at the highest price that can be obtained.

Surely Obamacare has benefited many. Yet the core system, because it’s based on “What’s it worth to you” pricing instead of rational, sustainable pricing, is in its core broken.

But the prescription America requires isn’t a quick fix. American health care needs very thoughtfully rethought. We require significant change. There will be financial winners and losers. But the public’s interest in this tussle should be paramount, not secondary.

Meanwhile, Vice President Pence said we needed more “Jesus” and “less insurance.” Other politicians cite the “supremacy of free markets and capitalism” – and others arcane constitutional arguments against federal health care initiatives.

But I’ve never seen the seriously ill saved by Jesus without doctors doing the work, and I’ve not seen the invisible hand of capitalism kindly care for our ill and suffering with the lowest prices possible. All this political babble is manipulation.

America has a crisis of priorities, a crisis of humanity, and at the core, a crisis of honesty. This issue requires great study, work, and open discussion.

Playing to the fringe crowd to score points isn’t going to help you in two, four, six or 10 years when you fall ill or you can’t cover the exorbitant premiums.

One dinner with Kristina de Bree will change anyone’s heart about the need for thoughtful and comprehensive health care reform. Kristina embodies both the most productive of us and the most vulnerable.

At one point or another most of us will be in something like Kristina’s shoes, having worked hard but fallen ill. And when that time comes you’ll surely have wanted this health-care situation solved soberly.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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