#152 – Dick Bernard: Who deserves medical care? A personal experience.

Recently I attended a greatly informative information meeting on the realities about, and need for, Universal Health Care. The meeting was facilitated by the Minnesota Universal Health Care Coalition.
The experience led me to recall my own personal history, which was published as a column in today’s edition of the Woodbury (MN) Bulletin. The column follows:
Forty-five years ago this month my wife, not yet 22, was actively engaged in the very difficult work of dying. Our first child was not yet one year old. We lived in a tiny apartment in the small town in western North Dakota where I was teaching school.
Barbara, who had kidney disease, was too weak to take care of her son; she was in the hospital about as much as she was at home. I took our son to the babysitter each morning.
At the end of May, 1965, I came home to pick up some materials I had forgotten, and found Barbara unconscious on the floor. I carried her down the stairs to the car, drove her to the local hospital, where she was transferred immediately to the hospital in Bismarck.
She had no alternative, they said, but to have a kidney transplant.
We had no insurance.
Finally University Hospital admitted her; she was there for almost two months, and she died July 24, 1965, leaving me with a year old son and medical debts equal to almost four times my to-be teacher salary.
I was on the verge of filing for bankruptcy, but was saved by North Dakota Public Welfare which agreed to pay the University Hospital portion of the bill; and by one hospital which forgave my bill with them. When it was all over, I owed about a year’s salary worth of bills, which then became manageable.
Six days after she died, two days after she was buried, Medicare was signed into Law, July 30, 1965.
To me, that government action was totally irrelevant, then.
Years and years have passed, and now I’m well into my Medicare years, and, if anything, over-insured with things like Long Term Care insurance, hoping that I have the right coverage. Unlike most, I can afford this luxury.
Back then in 1963, two weeks out of the Army and in a new job and in a new marriage, I passed on signing up for Blue Cross coverage so, somebody can say, it was my fault we were uninsured. Truth be told, even then, knowing what I know now, my wife would have been excluded due to an unknown (to us) pre-existing condition. The kidney disease did not manifest until shortly after I declined to sign up for the insurance.
I look at the current health care debate, the information and the abundant misinformation, through the lens of my own past. It is, I guess, a luxury that I have.
Now there’s group insurance – for the fortunate; and because of government foresight in the same year my wife died, Medicare for we fortunate elders.
There is absolutely no excuse for us to quibble and squabble over who deserves to be insured in this still wealthy country of ours. It is – or it should be – a basic and equal human right for every one of us, no questions asked.
At minimum, our kids and grandkids, faced with greater future uncertainties than we had to face, deserve our foresight more than our selfishness.
I urge you to learn more, and truly dialogue more, about this most critical issue. An excellent source of information is www.muhcc.org, a group dedicated to moving us from a patchwork and unfair system of health care, to more universal care. Doubtless there are other sources of information, but this is a place to start.