Art Cullen

We Don’t Need Health Reform, It Works Just Fine for Insurers

When we built The Storm Lake Times office, we had a priest (Fr. Boes, a German, not an Irishman, but a priest in good standing nonetheless) bless the place. We have a horseshoe tacked over the front door pointing in the right direction. So much for divine providence or luck.

I broke my shoulder last December while hauling a bundle of newspapers on a sidewalk freshly covered in ice.

My wife, Dolores ruptured a disc in her back while vacuuming the office (yes, we really do vacuum semi-annually) in January.

My shoulder is much better now.

Dolores had back surgery last week for which we had to pay cash up front because she fell into an insurance black hole.

After she tripped over the vacuum hose, Dolores felt a pain in her back. She went to a chiropractor to see if he could pop it back into place. It didn’t work. Then she went to a physical therapist with limited success. Then a neurosurgeon in Sioux City, who recommended cortisone shots and, failing a recovery, full monty back surgery with pins and screws and probably lock nuts.

Then another surgeon in Omaha who recommended a minimally invasive surgery presumably to repair the single disc in question.

The workers’ compensation company did not have time to review her request for coverage, despite documentation from the physical therapist, who holds a doctorate from Duke University, and the neurosurgeon in Omaha. So we called the Omaha surgeon and suggested that we use our health insurance instead. Oh no, the surgeon’s office replied, you had better bring a credit card. Since our credit card did not go that high, we shelled out $3,000 down in cash payment for the surgery and stand to cover the rest out of our own pockets — even though we have paid our monthly worker’s comp and health insurance premiums on time every month.

The doctor recommended surgery.

The patient agreed.

The insurance industry got in between the patient and doctor.

So we hired a lawyer.

You need a lawyer when you are exposed to potentially tens of thousands of dollars in non-covered health care expense.

Years ago when we had twin sons the health insurance company attempted to charge us a hospitalization deductible for each of the twins, plus Dolores. It took months to get that one straightened out.

When our ad manager, Mike Diercks, had a kidney transplant our health insurance rates more than doubled over two years and kept rising by double-digit percentage increases every year. Get this: The insurance company didn’t even pay the cost, Medicare did.

When a female from this office goes to get a mammogram for early prevention of breast cancer, she must drive to Sioux City 75 miles away. Our insurance will not cover the mammogram right here at Buena Vista Regional Medical Center in Storm Lake. Same thing with physical therapy, occupational therapy or any other clinical enterprise offered through the hospital.

A woman suffering from cancer in our office must drive to Sioux City for chemotherapy, since our insurance will not cover it at the local hospital.

You should be able to get these services in Storm Lake since they are already offered here at the same price as a clinic in Sioux City. But you can’t because we have a $5,000 deductible on hospital expenses. Sorry, but the tiny Storm Lake Times cannot afford any better a policy because rates have risen so dramatically and we are in a bad insurance pool.

We have no dental or optical insurance coverage.

Workers comp took care of my shoulder. It has yet to take care of Dolores’ back. You should not have to wait for surgery or hire a lawyer for a patient to get the health care they need when the doctor says they need it.

But that’s what we have.

Government health insurance could be no worse. In fact, seldom have I heard a complaint from a senior citizen about Medicare, other than they have to make a lot of photocopies.

We would love to choose from the same plans that members of Congress do. That’s what the House of Representatives is prepared to vote for. Last week, President Obama said nuts to that. That means that small businesses like ours will have to lug the burden of health care on our backs for years to come.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, will have a lot to answer for because of his key role in killing real health care reform under the guise of bipartisanship. We had always thought of him as an honest man and and somewhat of a maverick in the Senate. His pandering to a nut-filled base will forever jade my view of him. I thought he was looking for a way to help us out. He showed his true colors when he told wingnuts at a town hall in Adel, Iowa, that citizens have every right to “fear” the public option in health care reform, stoking fears of abandoning Grandma to Dr. Kervorkian.

We will find a way. We always have.

And, Dolores is doing well. She is without pain for the first time since January. She is taking it easy for a couple weeks and should be back on the job, taking photos around the county and doing illustrations for The Progressive Populist. Even if we have to pay for it out of our own pockets, we will work like dogs to pay the bills, and we pray it will have been worth it.

And never, ever, will we vote for Grassley again. What fools we have been.

Art Cullen is editor of The Storm Lake Times. Email:

From The Progressive Populist, September 15, 2009

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