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In the Blink of an Eye

In the Blink of an Eye

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Published by T M Copeland
The role of health insurance in America
The role of health insurance in America

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Published by: T M Copeland on Jul 23, 2009
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05/24/2010

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On May 12th of this year my wife and I had just arrived for her birthday dinner.Right after we sat down my cell phone rang. The call was from a calm andcheerful lady in Winchester, VA, some seven hours, by car, from my home.Her voice and demeanor were so matter of fact it required her repeating herselfat least once, and I fear probably more times, before I understood what she wastelling me. It seems my youngest daughter, on the way home from college inBoston with two of her friends who were coming to our home to “experience theSouth while it is still here,” flipped her car three times and was in the emergencyroom.Thankfully, the two passengers were unhurt, except for bruises and scratchesand, no doubt, some real trauma associated with such an experience. Mydaughter, however, was another story. She had received a severe blow to thehead that fractured her skull and resulted in a hematoma. She had also brokenher neck in two places, very high up on her spinal column.Miraculously, she was otherwise uninjured and she retained all her physical andmental facilities. However, when the lady who called finished with me, they putme through to the neurosurgeon on call. This doctor, himself one of God’s ownmiracles, calmly explained that, while my daughter was exceptionally lucky to bein the shape she was in, given the severity of her injuries, she was, by no means,out of the woods. He reminded me of the late Natasha Richardson’s recent skiingaccident and how it had appeared she was safe only to be killed by a growingblood clot in her brain. He also pointed out that a break so high on the spinalcolumn remained a real cause for concern as, should it worsen for any reason, along host of terrible things could be in store, the least of which would beparalysis.The calm steady explanations the doctor offered were, paradoxically, bothreassuring and terrifying. They reassured because it was clear my daughter,hundreds of miles away with no family to attend her, was in goods hands.Terrifying, because he pulled no punches and in his undramatic manner he letme know what was at stake. He asked permission to operate should thehematoma show signs of growth which my wife and I gave. Afterward, we hungup and drove to Virginia full of questions, concerns, no answers and no comfort
 
other than one another’s company.Our two older children, both live in New York, dropped what they were doing,caught an express train to DC and grabbed a friend of my son’’s car and beat usto Winchester by many hours. So, for the last several hours of our trip, we hadthe comfort of knowing our injured daughter was not alone.Once there, I discovered that my daughter’s car, a Toyota that did its jobprotecting my daughter’s friends and her, as best it could, had, essentially, splitopen on the highway after rolling three times. As a result, the possessions of thetravelers were strewn down the interstate over a wide area. These were collectedby the EMS people and the wrecker driver, when possible, and the hulk of thevehicle was towed to the yard.It was only after I found my daughter’s wallet in the remains of the car that Idiscovered her health insurance card. It was only then, after my daughter hadbeen treated for major trauma injuries and given excellent care for those injuriesthat it occurred to me that, in my conversation with the lady who placed the calland the doctor who explained the full scope of the situation, there was onesubject no one mentioned. No one asked me about my daughter’s healthinsurance, not until days after the accident.I still find that remarkable. Ultimately, my daughter spent sixteen days in thehospital. Her stay included six full days in ICU, one emergency craniotomy, tendays in a private room, both physical therapy and occupational therapy, a courseof pain management that could keep Rush Limbaugh stoned, a variety of neckbraces and, for the most part excellent medical care.Home now and, with my daughter well on the way to full recovery, dealing withthe bills, I am struck with two, again paradoxical, images of health care inAmerica. First, and is is due, perhaps it was only the fortuitous location of theaccident, so near the fabulous medical facility and personnel of the WinchesterHospital. Whatever, no one could reasonably hope for better medical care thanmy daughter received. Since the treatment was begun and was being continuedlong before anybody got around to retrieving our health insurance information, Iassume the same standard of care would have been available to anyone who
 
bounced in off I-85.The second image is, after the relief of disaster averted comes the long tail ofcosts incurred. I won’t go into what everything cost, but it was a very expensivetrip to the mountains. Far, far more expensive that the entire cost of travel andaccommodation and board for my entire family, and one guest for each child, fora month in Barcelona.Without health insurance, the costs would have bankrupted my wife and me. Thiswas not an expense that can be blamed upon poor living habits or, even, baddriving habits. It was, and is, simply an example of how everything can turn,without notice, in an instant. How, in less than the time it takes to blink an eye, allthe settled patterns of life can be overturned. It is an example of how you canmove from a quiet, family celebration to a seven hour drive to a place you hadnever heard of before, a drive through the night, fighting panic and fear and darkconcerns of an uncertain future.At such times you do not think of money. You have no fear of bankruptcy. In truth,there is no price you will not pay or, at least, promise to pay. Yet, when the crisisis past, there is a limit to what can be paid.The current system of providing health care in America is unfair to everyoneinvolved in providing and receiving that care. Perhaps it is not unfair to theinsurers of that care. However, they are not involved in giving or receiving care,Insurers squat in the middle of this specialized form of economic exchange andrake off money. Otherwise, they provide no function, they add no value to thetransaction.Other than to make money, health insurers serve no purpose. The doctors whotreated my daughter did so without concern for her insurance. I am sure theywere happy to hear that she did have insurance and that they would be paid atleast some of their fees and costs. Never the less, they began her treatment longbefore they knew, one way or the other. My daughter, my wife and myself caredonly that she receive the treatment she required to survive and recover.Don’t get me wrong, once the crisis passed, I was, and am, glad we have health

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