The pro-family case for reform

THE PRO-FAMILY CASE FOR REFORM…. For quite a while now, there have been ongoing efforts to make reform more appealing by framing it ways that conservatives might like. The right claims to be worried about fiscal responsibility, for example, so reform advocates note that the status quo is fiscally devastating.

Conservatives are also ostensibly concerned about marriages and traditional family structures. So perhaps the right might care that, in some instances, our broken health care system promotes and encourages divorce. The NYT‘s Nicholas Kristof explains how the status quo “breaks apart families,” and highlights the experiences of a pseudonymous friend named M.

She was married to a sweet, gentle man whom she loved, but who had become increasingly absent-minded. Finally, he was diagnosed with early-onset dementia.

The disease is degenerative, and he will become steadily less able to care for himself. At some point, as his medical needs multiply, he will probably need to be institutionalized.

The hospital arranged a conference call with a social worker, who outlined how the dementia and its financial toll on the family would progress, and then added, out of the blue: “Maybe you should divorce.”

“I was blown away,” M. told me. But, she said, the hospital staff members explained that they had seen it all before, many times. If M.’s husband required long-term care, the costs would be catastrophic even for a middle-class family with savings.

Eventually, after the expenses whittled away their combined assets, her husband could go on Medicaid — but by then their children’s nest egg would be gone, along with her 401(k) plan. She would face a bleak retirement with neither her husband nor her savings.

Apparently, these kinds of divorces are so common in American society that the law is written to seize assets of ex-spouses up to five years later. Kristof’s friend was encouraged to not only divorce her ailing husband, but to do so quickly.

Once this happens, the government (i.e., taxpayers) ends up picking up the tab, but not until the person who’s sick is left with nothing. M.’s family lawyer told her, “I don’t see any other options for you.”

No other industrialized democracy on earth allows its citizens to endure such nightmares. Indeed, Kritof noted an American Journal of Medicine study that found 62% of all American bankruptcies are linked to medical bills — and more than three out of four of those bankruptcies occurred among those with insurance. Again, every citizen of every other industrialized democracy on the planet need not worry about such a scenario.

Reform proponents want to end this insanity. Conservatives — you know, the crowd that considers itself “pro-family” — are fighting like hell to stop them.