Tuesday, August 25, 2009

My dad, health insurance, and napkin drawings

My dad died one year ago today. I miss him terribly, and that plus a recent work by Dan Roam (or this video version for those with shorter attention spans) got me thinking about health insurance.

About 11 days before he died, my father fell and had to be taken to the hospital where he stayed for a little less than 4 days. It cost about $60,000. He didn’t get heroic measures or strange procedures that I’m aware of (that wasn’t his style), he was just weak and his lungs were failing because of emphysema. So they did some tests and patched him up and sent him home. He lived at home with hospice for a week (all paid for by insurance), and after a very long weekend, he died peacefully while being taken care of by a hospice volunteer* with my mother and I by his side.

The point of this little story is that my father had pretty good health insurance. A combination of Medicare and supplemental insurance meant that my parents didn’t go broke as father’s illness progressed. But they still paid a boatload of money. One year they paid close to $16,000 after Medicare and insurance ran out. When he died, they were paying about $3,000 per year on just his prescriptions (again, after Medicare and insurance maxed out). Thankfully, they could.

The point. The phrase of the moment is “healthcare” but (as Dan points out) it should be health insurance reform, because that’s what it’s really about. As far as I know, no one is talking about nationalizing hospitals or other aspects of healthcare providers – all the noise is about health insurance. Why don’t we just start calling it that?

BTW, I’m not busting on health insurance companies per se, I’m not sure it’s completely fair to to dump everything on businesses that are competing in a market. To me, the national debate should be about how we want to pay for this stuff? Should healthcare be like other businesses? Is the invisible hand of the market is a good model for managing national healthcare? Again, I think Dan does a great job simplifying this question.

Sorry for the long philosophical tangent, back to communication tomorrow (or the next day).

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* Hospice volunteers are amazing people, and I can’t praise them enough. They routinely enter very sad situations and provide necessary services with grace and dignity. I learned a hell of a lot from my dad’s last volunteer Linda. Wherever you are, thank you.

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