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October 2012, Week 2

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Sun, 14 Oct 2012 20:49:27 -0400
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Why is Mitt Romney Trying to Kill Me?
I'm critical of Obama's presidency, but my medical
emergency convinced me that for Obamacare alone we must
re-elect him
by Clancy Sigal
October 13, 2012
Guardian (UK)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/13/obamacare-gets-my-vote-clancy-sigal

Under the influence of the painkiller Dilaudid, and dog-
tired after another day of fighting for my life with my
private health insurance company, I glimpsed Mitt Romney
and his running-mate, Paul Ryan, entering my Los Angeles
hospital room dressed in surgical gowns with scalpels in
their hands ready to fatally operate on me.

It was a drug-induced hallucination, of course. But the
mirage made me sit bolt upright in bed and, fully awake,
start to rethink my previous, bitterly dissenting view
of Barack Obama.

For the past year, I've been in a death spiral without
knowing it. The occasional fainting spell, sprawls on
the street and a dramatic weight loss were shrugged off
as merely a cost of doing a writer's business. Denial is
a most powerful analgesic. Even when paramedics first
rushed me to the hospital, I angrily argued with the
doctors.

But when a lightning-bolt sciatica pain, triggered by a
car accident, brought me down like a bull under the
matador's sword, more or less paralyzing the left side
of my body, the health gods decided it was time to shut
down my hubris. Like something out of the TV's "House"
or "General Hospital", suddenly there were midnight
ambulances, emergency room traumas, drip feeds, oxygen
tubes up my nose, renal failure, suspected meningitis,
pneumonia and a minor heart attack.

Thankfully, working as a team at my local Cedars-Sinai
hospital, whole platoons of neurosurgeons,
cardiologists, nurses, infectious disease experts,
radiologists, physical therapists, pulmonologists and
hospitalists (whatever they are) dragged me back from
the edge. Emergency surgery in a special spinal unit was
successful, and today I'm back on my feet - I'm a
product of American medicine at its best.

Ah, if only the doctors were free to do their jobs!

My private insurance company, a subsidiary of Wellpoint
Inc - America's largest "managed healthcare", for-profit
company - interfered at almost every stage of my
treatment. They were aggressive and shameless. At my
most vulnerable, with tubes sticking out of me, they
phoned my hospital room - kicking my anxiety level sky-
high - to let me know that Wellpoint's profit-seeking
radar had targeted me. The anonymous voice warned, with
a kind of smiling threat, that they were on my case:
meaning, some bureaucrat - was he or she even medically
competent, or just an IT geek - in a far- off, distant
corporate office believed that my treatment was
violating a mysterious insurance algorithm.

Here in California, Wellpoint and its member plans are
notorious, as Reuters reported, for "using a computer
algorithm that automatically targeted [women] and every
other policyholder recently diagnosed with breast cancer
... the insurer then [allegedly] canceled their policies
based on either erroneous or flimsy information."

The practice is called rescission. To put it bluntly,
the company collects your money when you're healthy, but
cancels if you get sick. In the case of another
insurance company, Health Net Inc, employees were
actually paid bonuses based on how many cancellations
were carried out; at other insurers, like Wellpoint,
staff were praised in performance reviews. Wellpoint's
California subsidiary, Anthem Blue Cross, has raised
premiums capriciously by as much as 39%. Politically,
Wellpoint is, in effect, a rightwing "political action
group" that lobbies hard against healthcare reform -
even calling upon employees to do their share. In other
words, it's the ogre in the medicine cabinet.

Perversely, none of the bad stuff would have come down
if my primary insurance had been traditional,
government-paid Medicare, the closest America has to a
single payer. But a quirk in my union benefits put me in
the sweaty hands of Wellpoint. I wasn't threatened with
recission, but almost daily, and sometimes several times
daily, my doctors were interrogated about practically
every measure they took to keep me alive. Again and
again, I saw caregivers, even the most skilled and
courageous, retreat with an embarrassed, impotent shrug
of resignation that said, "what can I do; it's 'the
system'?"

So I - and my courageous tiger wife - fought, wangled,
yelled, protested until I ultimately squeezed past the
algorithm. The surgeon of my choice skillfully removed
the whatsit that was pressing on an inflamed nerve that
had been beating up my spine, and I even won a little
rehab time before the insurance computer forced my early
discharge. Along the way, anguish over near-daily
arguments with the faceless insurance hanging judges
almost gave me another heart attack.

Need it be this way?

Obamacare - also known as the Affordable Health Care Act
- isn't medical heaven, or single payer, or anything
like the "socialized" NHS that kept me well for the 30
years I lived in the UK. The new law, an obvious
compromise with the corporate sickness industry, still
keeps us in the hands of private insurance companies.
But when the law fully kicks in for the first time, all
Americans - regardless of income and "preexisting
medical conditions" - must have health coverage.
Individuals up to the age of 26 are covered by their
parents' plan. Low-income Americans will get subsidies
to help them buy insurance, and doctors and hospitals
will be paid for outcomes not "procedures". Starting in
2014, insurers are forbidden to deny coverage to anyone
who has no workplace - the jobless and freelancers will
be able to get a government-mandated, insurance plan;
indeed, they must or pay a "fine". And under the new
law, "federal parity" means mental healthcare will be
more accessible to more people.

Granted, that all depends on this upcoming election day.
If Romney and Ryan win - the latest polls tell us this
is a real possibility - they, a vengeful Republican
Congress and their insurance lobby allies have sworn to
sabotage healthcare-for-all. As for repeal and replace,
Mitt's prescription for uninsured folks is that
emergency room care is a good enough substitute:

    "We do provide care for people who don't have
    insurance ... If someone has a heart attack, they
    don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them
    up in an ambulance, and take them to the (ER), and
    give them care."

Here and elsewhere, I have written bitterly attacking
Obama's serial betrayals. He's no street-scrapper, our
Barack. Prior to falling sick, I pined for a third-party
candidate, and seriously thought about not voting. But a
drug-induced vision of a Romney/Ryan medical hell
changed my mind. On 6 November, I'm pulling the lever
for Obama: my arrogant, self-sabotaging, drone-happy,
compromise-addicted war president.

I never want to see Dr Romney in my hospital room again.
Damn it, I want to live.

[Clancy Sigal, is a screenwriter and novelist in Los
Angeles. Chicago-born, he has worked precincts for
Democratic candidates since his teens. He emigrated to
the UK during what David Caute calls the 'Great Fear'
and returned to America after the 1984 miners' strike.
He is a reformed Fleet Street journalist.]

[Many thanks to Clancy Sigal for submitting this to
Portside.]

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