Gwinnett: Drowning under medical bills

Wilkes has Good Pastures Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disease that has destroyed her kidneys. She’ll eventually need a kidney transplant, but for now she undergoes dialysis three days a week. She can only consume 32 ounces of fluids a day. She takes 18 meds a day.

The Parkview High grad was diagnosed with the illness on Aug. 2. Her life hasn’t been the same since. It’s become one of those “real life” stories advocates trot out to buttress their case for health care reform.

Wilkes is not underinsured. She hasn’t been dropped for treatment by a provider. She simply has no employer or private medical coverage.

It wasn’t always this way. Before her illness, the Georgia Southern University grad provided in-home care for Alzheimer’s patients. As an independent contractor, she paid the monthly premium for her insurance.

But when her client roster dwindled, she dropped her Blue Cross-Blue Shield coverage. Too expensive. These days, bills for hospital stays, dialysis treatments and prescription drugs keep mounting. She gave an example of the spiraling costs: 12 treatments of plasmaferesis — the removal, treatment and return of blood plasma.

“That’s $10,000 a pop,” Wilkes told me. “If looking at one of these bills doesn’t get someone in a proactive role about health care reform, I don’t know what would.”

On C-Span, I tuned in to the Senate Finance Committee’s debate on whether to add amendments to the panel’s health care proposal that would allow a public insurer’s option. I kept hearing words like “actuarial value,” “young invincible plan,” “affordability waiver” and “HSAs.”

Gobbledygook. Who can make sense of it? Better yet, what does it matter to my family, yours, or Jennifer?

Talk about a disconnect. The broadcast gave me no sense of how the millions of Americans who are underinsured, uninsured, have exclusions on their coverage or have been dropped by their providers would benefit from a national health plan.

Health care reform has generated way too much partisan nuttiness, grandstanding and general ill will. It’s cluttered with too many “isms,” distractions and flat-out lies. Sadly, too much of the clutter is generated by leaders who are supposed to be working on our behalf.

We are supposed to be the greatest country in the world. Sometimes we act like it. Yet, we fall short on so many domestic fronts. We do a poor job of running programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Then we look at those very programs and say they are the reason a comprehensive health plan won’t work.

We seem incapable of drawing up a plan in which free enterprise and government involvement (some might say intrusion) co-exist. It’s as if the two are mutually exclusive. They aren’t.

I wish Jennifer could go to Washington and sit in on a health care debate. Maybe if members of Congress understood her plight, they’d act.

Maybe if they saw her, they’d imagine having an uninsured daughter, niece or wife. Then, maybe they’d make less hay.

For now, Jennifer is trying to work through the system. She has been approved for Medicare and is trying to get disability.

Her friends have opened a SunTrust account to collect donations for her expenses. All of this has been an eye-opener for a young woman who had wanted to return to school, maybe become a certified nurse.

It’s hard to know what the perfect health plan should entail. Something has to be done. After all, your health is your life.

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