Healthcare policies need a medical intervention

Earlier this month, I received a concerned call from a neighbor. Someone they knew had a failing heart, and badly needed a pacemaker operation. This person was ineligible for Medicaid and was also uninsured. As a result, the hospital was refusing to perform the operation without up-front payment, which cost over $50,000. My neighbor asked what I thought could be done. After suggesting that a GoFundMe might be in order and that I would help spread the word, I passed on the patient’s contact details to a well-connected friend. A few hours later I got a call back from my neighbor, who wanted to let me know that the operation was going to move forward and express their gratitude.

It’s easy to forget the human cost of healthcare policies. The General Assembly’s refusal to expand Medicaid for ideological or fiscal reasons affects as many as 400,000 Virginians, 23,000 of whom are in a coverage gap, without access to a healthcare plan. And efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act threatens millions of Americans who rely on it for life-saving operations and medicine.

The Daily Press’s recent editorial, Health Care will Cost Us provided readers with a solid tutorial on the factors that shape our health care policy debate. A truly great nation doesn’t fail its citizens when it comes to something so fundamental to a citizen's life, liberty, and ability to pursue happiness. Meeting the standards described is challenging, of course, but it’s one that most every other developed country has tackled. As they correctly noted, the terms of the challenge define the shape of the solution.

While the Daily Press provided a valuable “financial” analysis, it’s important to never lose sight of the fact that there are real people with life-or-death challenges who will be impacted by our policy decisions—people from both political parties and from all over the country. The story that Jeff Jeans told Speaker Paul Ryan earlier this month at a town hall meeting was an instructive example. Jeans was a small business owner and a lifelong Republican. When the Affordable Care Act was implemented, he told his wife that he’d close his business before he’d submit to the law’s requirements. A cancer diagnosis, however, made the issue of pre-existing conditions very real and very immediate for him. Ultimately, he credited the law he opposed for saving his life.

The Affordable Care Act is under review right now but if everyone is serious about meeting the guidelines your editorial laid out—while still ensuring the availability of coverage for everyone—then the shape of any replacement legislation won’t be dramatically different from the law we have today. We should all be able to agree that the prospect of repealing the existing law without a replacement ready to go is simply irresponsible. By all means, let’s design the best plan we can, but we’ll need non-partisan solutions if we’re going to succeed for all the people out there like Jeff Jeans.

In the meantime, residents of Hampton Roads can’t wait for the healthcare debate to unfold on the national stage. We need to learn as much as we can about our options and the 2017 Mega Health Healthcare Insurance Enrollfestoccurring at the Hampton Roads Convention Center this weekend is a terrific place to get started. Attendees will be able to take advantage of free health screenings and HIV testing. There will also be resources for Veterans, as well as free help with health insurance enrollment. Anyone in the community who needs help or information when it comes to healthcare will find important resources, expert advice, and a welcoming environment.

Improving our healthcare system won’t to be easy, but we owe it to ourselves to get it right. In the meantime, we need to make sure that everyone has access to the resources they deserve to stay healthy in 2017. We can’t rely on GoFundMe campaigns or the kindness of strangers as a matter of public policy.