Rationing and long wait times

RATIONING AND LONG WAIT TIMES…. In July, Bill Moyers sat down with Wendell Potter, a former executive at a major health insurance company, who’s become a whistleblower, explaining the way the industry “put profits before patients” and is doing everything possible to block health care reform now.

Asked what prompted his change of heart, Potter said he visited a health care expedition in Wise, Virginia, in July 2007. “I just assumed that it would be, you know, like booths set up and people just getting their blood pressure checked and things like that,” he said. “But what I saw were doctors who were set up to provide care in animal stalls. Or they’d erected tents, to care for people…. I’ve got some pictures of people being treated on gurneys, on rain-soaked pavement. And I saw people lined up, standing in line or sitting in these long, long lines, waiting to get care.”

Potter added that families were there from “all over the region” because people had heard, “from word of mouth,” about the possibility of being able to see a doctor without insurance. He asked himself, “What country am I in? It just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States.”

If only the scene in Wise were somehow unusual. Zaid Jilani flags this story about families in Texas who attended what was described as the “largest free clinic ever held in the United States” to get care they wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. Texas has the highest uninsured rates in the country — it’s been called an “epidemic” — and more than 2,000 people showed up at a convention center in Houston for medical treatment.

“My foot was turned upside down,” said patient Lillian Beverly. Beverly has had trouble walking since she took a bad fall three months ago. “I really don’t have the money to keep going to doctors and doctors,” she said.

Kevin Braggs is worried about his diabetes. “I’ve been without insurance for six months,” said Braggs.

And Vicki Robinson wants to keep her son’s asthma under control, but she says it’s difficult. “My husband’s lost his job. We’ve gone through our savings,” said Robinson.

And nine-year-old Kempton knows it. “We can’t afford medicine,” he said.

I read this, and I think about the Wendell Potter quote: “What country am I in? It just didn’t seem to be a possibility that I was in the United States.”

One of the physicians who offered his services at the clinic added, “This is the largest health mobilization in Houston since Katrina. So a national disaster which brought out this kind of response is now paralleled by a national disaster, because this is just an average day in Houston, and there are thousands of people who need help.”

It is, in other words, the norm. Thousands go without the care they need, and it’s “just an average day.”

We saw a similar scene in August near Los Angeles where thousands sought services, and hundreds of people were turned away. Families in need of assistance slept outside an arena, hoping for the chance to see a physician.

Remember, in some conservative circles, there’s still a belief that health care reform isn’t necessary. Last month, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) even boasted, “There are no Americans who don’t have healthcare. Everybody in this country has access to healthcare.”

I’d love to see Virginia Foxx head down to Houston, so she can deliver the message to those who attended the free clinic. While she’s there, Foxx can let them know that health care reform might lead to “rationing” and “long wait times.”