The Savage Arithmetic of the Pre-Existing Condition

I went to the doctor
Guess what he told me
Guess what he told me…
– Sinead O’Connor
Five years ago, my wife and I took what turned out to be the longest walk in the world to Brigham & Women’s hospital in Boston to get a diagnosis for her that had been six months in the making. She was 25 years old, and her right arm had gone sideways on her over the last nine months with a collection of symptoms – numbness, tingling, and tremors of such severity that her good hand was all but useless for anything besides waving at friends – that we had run out of explanations for. Nerve damage? Carpal tunnel? We didn’t know. She had gotten an MRI two days earlier, and the doctor had called that day asking us to come down and talk about it. The conversation began with, “You have multiple sclerosis,” and that has been our undeniable reality ever since.
Multiple sclerosis, for those not in the know, is a disease in which the body’s own immune system goes to war against its own brain. My wife suffered her symptoms because the disease gnawed through the myelin sheaths of her own higher nervous system and annihilated the nerves that control her right arm. Over the intervening years, her brain has taken it upon itself to figure out some good work-arounds – to wit, when the road collapses, you build an overpass – but her hand will never again have the same functionality (until stem cell research bears fruit, fingers crossed).
I give her an injection every day to control the disease, and she takes a variety of other drugs to manage the symptoms. All told, multiple sclerosis – between the doctor visits, the MRIs, and the drugs required to keep a lid on things – costs upwards of $50,000 a year. Thankfully, she is gainfully employed with a major retail company with a stellar insurance program, so a large portion of that cost is defrayed by the insurance she pays for with every paycheck.
Without that insurance, she would be at the mercy of those who think pre-existing conditions are basically God’s funny joke on people, i.e., ha ha ha, you’re screwed.
She is not alone. I went to the doctor last month, and found out that I have pretty damned high blood pressure. The doctor had me come back four weeks later to do another check, and, yup, really really high blood pressure. I am now on two different drugs to bring it down to a manageable level, drugs that I am going to be on until they wind me in my shroud. I am on my wife’s insurance, so again, the cost of those drugs is manageable, but mine is now a house filled with pre-existing conditions.

What if she gets fired, or the company goes belly-up? She is incredibly good at what she does, which means some other company may try someday to tempt her away…until they hear about her pre-existing condition, and mine, and how much insurance coverage for those conditions will cost thanks to our truly insane for-profit health industry. If my wife leaves her company for any reason – especially if/when Scalia and his merry band of ridiculous fascists decide to curb-stomp Obama’s health care law – we are both well and truly screwed. It’s like Ayn Rand herself was allowed to draft the rules for getting sick in America.

But that’s me and my wife.
Here’s you.
According to the American Heart Association, more than 81,000,000 people in America suffer from one or more forms of cardiovascular disease.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 11,000,000 people in America currently suffer from some form of cancer.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million people in America currently suffer from diabetes, and the Center for Disease Control has estimated as many as half of all Americans will suffer from the disease by the year 2050, thanks to our deplorable dietary habits.
According to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, between 50,000 and 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s are diagnosed in America each year.
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, some 400,000 Americans currently suffer from MS.
That’s a pretty substantial portion of the population, with more being diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s and MS every day.
Do the math.
It’s you, too.
Hundreds of millions of people in this country are sick at this moment, or will be sick tomorrow, the next day, or somewhere down the line. The numbers are spinning like the fare meter on a New York City taxi cab, ever higher every day. If you’re not sick, you will be one of these days: bank on it…and in the meantime, at least one person you know is in that tribe.
That’s fact.
We’re enveloped in a national debate about insurance mandates and the political leanings of nine Supreme Court Justices. That’s all well and good, but entirely beside the point.
A nation that does not care for its sick and infirm is a nation that does not deserve to exist. A nation that actively profits from the pain and suffering of those sick and infirm deserves to burn in Hell. A nation that throws those sick and infirm to the wolves is so far beneath contempt as to beggar description.
Two years ago, Republican Mike Huckabee compared people with pre-existing conditions to houses that have already burned down. Just the other day on the Leno show, likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney voiced a very similar opinion.
They both have awesome health insurance.
Do you? Forever?
One of these days, you are going to have a pre-existing condition.
Hope for the best, but expect the worst. “The worst” is exactly where we are headed, if matters continue as they have.
Straightforward stuff, folks.
Think it over, while you can.
We’re on borrowed time, after all.
How are you feeling today?