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Sun., May 20, 2012

Liberty can be deadly

So when the nation was engaged in that big, messy health care reform debate, did some people really not understand that this was a life and death matter involving actual human beings? Must each person contract their own cancers and chronic conditions before finally understanding the deadly and debilitating nature of our system?

And yet, here is poor Kathy Watson, an opponent of health insurance mandates but a fierce protector of the coverage she secured thanks to health care reform. In an Associated Press article that ran in this paper Friday, we learned that Watson, a businesswoman from Florida, struggled to obtain coverage because her white blood cell count was high.

Think about that for a moment. No health insurer would cover her because she might get sick. Who doesn’t get sick? Most of us go from the young and healthy status insurers crave to the more advanced years, when the body has a tendency to break down. It’s called aging. Apologies if I’m the first to break this news to you.

Bottom line: We all need health care.

However, when we need it most is when we reach that lovely stage known to actuaries as “uninsurable.” So you better already be covered. Watson wasn’t, and when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, she was relegated to the Universal Health Care Suite – also known as the emergency room – for medication when her symptoms would flare up.

Watson says she would be dead if not for a provision of health care reform called the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, which was created to cover people like her. So does that mean Americans have died for lack of health care coverage? Yep. Gone broke, too.

About 45,000 Americans die annually due to complications associated with a lack of health coverage, according to a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Among industrialized nations, the United States is alone in forgoing universal care. We’re also unique in that citizens go bankrupt over health care expenses. We do this in the name of liberty.

Thanks to reform, Watson probably won’t go bankrupt. Initially, she faced an $800 monthly premium for her PCIP plan, but the government worked with her and got that down to $363. Taxpayers, whether liberal or conservative, are subsidizing this. They also saved her life. Is anyone seriously angry with this rescue?

We can revert back to the time when people in her circumstance had to rely on spaghetti feeds and other charitable deeds to get lifesaving care, or we can keep the reform that was passed and improve upon it.

As a businesswoman, Watson must understand why insurance companies oppose a mandate that forces them to cover people after they get sick. It doesn’t pencil out unless healthy people are forced to buy policies, too.

By the way, “healthy” is what Watson was before she got sick and desperate.

Only in America. Newt Gingrich formed a think tank a decade ago called the Center for Health Transformation to promote private-sector health care solutions. Recently, it filed for bankruptcy protection.

Seems fitting.

Like it is. On “House,” Dr. James Wilson, an oncologist, recently discovered he has Stage 2 cancer. He has decided to forgo radical treatments and live out the remaining months of his life in a more peaceful manner. It’s one of the rare instances in health care where art imitates life.

Dr. Ken Murray wrote a column for the Wall Street Journal in February about how doctors choose a lot less treatment than their patients when it comes to end-of-life care. The chief reason is that they’re more knowledgeable about the limitations of health care. To understand why I brought up a TV show, consider this passage from Murray:

“A study by Susan Diem and others of how CPR is portrayed on TV found that it was successful in 75 percent of the cases and that 67 percent of the TV patients went home. In reality, a 2010 study of more than 95,000 cases of CPR found that only 8 percent of patients survived for more than one month. Of these, only about 3 percent could lead a mostly normal life.”

So, kudos to “House” for reality television.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter at @GaryCrooks.

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