Letter from Langdon: Happy with Health Care?

A Missourian takes the pulse of citizens on health care issues, gazes south of the border, and routes the results to Washington, D.C.

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Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it. It’s a big complaint in Langdon, Missouri. What started out as a perfect crop in the field this year is now turning into something less, as more and more rain pours down on the flatlands.

An angel once whispered to me that the more difficult the task, the nobler and more magnificent it becomes. By that measure health care is mighty noble, but it might be easier to dry up the heavens than cure what ails the nation.

I sure wish someone would do something about it.

The angels must have been cheering on Saturday, looking down on the area’s first health care day of service. Achieving health care at a reasonable cost is hard, but setting up this event proved nearly impossible. That’s what organizer Linda Bennington Nolan discovered when she started looking for a place to hold it. Wal-Mart wouldn’t have it, and the farmers market opted out, as did the shopping malls. Nolan hoped to offer blood pressure screenings; even though she’s a trained health professional, legal liability was a big obstacle. (If you find someone with high blood pressure and they die or have a stroke once they leave your booth, the law says you should have prevented it.) When she asked the blood bank to participate so the screenings could be offered, they declined. She planned a bake sale, but the city of St Joseph doesn’t allow them in a public space. “They say it’s a health risk,” Linda told me, “especially fruit pies that aren’t refrigerated.”

Richard Oswald
Linda Nolan, at left, drew together proto-volunteers June 6 at the St. Joseph Library to plan a “health care day of service.” Thirty-five people came to the planning session; eight volunteers turned out last Saturday for the event. Just finding a venue turned out to be a struggle.

When she was still Linda Bennington, she and I grew up on opposite sides of Langdon, separated by the railroad tracks. We have never worried about which side of the tracks was the wrong side because back then, everyone in Langdon was equal. We both did very well eating our mothers’ cooking. But by today’s city standards, we grew up in a death trap baited with fruit pies, fresh baked cookies, and homemade ice cream.

I guess it’s a miracle we survived.

So the bake sale was out. But at the last moment the manager of the East Hills Mall relented and allowed Linda and her volunteers in on the condition that they post no signs, make no public address system announcements, and do nothing to hinder merchants and their customers. In other words, “Keep it quiet.”

Still, Linda was up for the task. She told me, “We hope to give people with healthcare issues a chance to share their personal stories and sign a declaration of support for affordable healthcare choices reaching all the way to Congress.” Linda called this  “a once in a lifetime opportunity to share our thoughts in an actual healthcare reform bill written ‘for the people’. It is imperative we do something now.”

“Excuse me, are you happy with your health care?” a volunteer, Adrienne, called out to a passing shopper. “Yes, I am,” the shopper replied as she walked toward the exit.

But not everyone was happy… or kept walking.

One man, Larry, who was using the mall as an indoor track, promised to stop by as soon as his walk was finished; “Once I get my heart rate up, I need to keep going” he said. When he returned he explained why he felt a national health care plan might never succeed. “I’m not ready to sign up yet. There’s too much to be decided,” Larry said. “For one thing, it’s just too darned expensive”.

Then another volunteer, Patricia, told her story:

“When my insurance was canceled we had to move to Mexico because of what my prescriptions cost here in the US. In Mexico, the same prescription for the same identical drug costs just 20% of what it costs here. A visit to the doctor of my choice runs $30 to $40. Charges for a private hospital room are $150 a day.  And even the poorest people in Mexico get health care whether they can afford it or not.”

Patricia showed off her Star Medica card. The $17 card qualifies her for discounts (25% off hospital and emergency room costs, 10% off lab work and x-rays) for her medical care on the Yucatan where she lives a medical expat’s life with her husband, Glenn.

“I guess I’m ready to sign now,” Larry said.

Patricia and people like her are part of Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim’s latest business venture: medical tourism. Slim’s company, Grupo Star Medica, is building state-of-the art hospitals in popular baby boomer resort towns like Puerto Peñasco, Sonora, and in Los Cabos on the Baja California peninsula. By offering economical treatment plans for medical tourists from the US, Slim is also spurring a development boom for new homes that he expects U.S. residents to buy so they can be closer to their Mexican doctors. A Star Medica hospital was even approved to treat President George Bush on his 2007 trip to the Yucatan Peninsula.

If it’s good enough for Bush II, it’s good enough for me, but I hope I never need it. Still, my wife Linda, grandson Ryan, and I spend $1000 a month for medical insurance in addition to a $5000 deductible, and no help with prescription meds, dental or eye care. Last year our total medical expense including insurance premiums was well over $20,000.

Patricia says it takes her six days to drive from Yucatan back to St Joe, where she visits her daughter and grandchild. The good news is that Grupo Star Medica is expanding facilities into border towns like Ciudad Juarez for those U.S. residents who prefer being closer to home. 

So chin up, America, reasonable health care costs along with cheap luxury housing await you, not here, but just across our southern border.

Richard Oswald
Blood pressure checks were out, but opinions were plentiful at the East Hills Mall during Saturday’s health care day of service.


As more people stopped to talk, we heard about people’s fears of changes to the current health care system. One retired lady seemed sure that reform would mean poorer Medicare service for her. Others expressed doubts about how the law might be created or how much a new system would cost: “In Congress you never know what they’re going to come up with until it’s done,”… “Health care costs always go higher,”… “How are they going to pay for it?”

But there were no doubts among the half-dozen volunteers that day. Patricia said she trusts President Obama and believes in what he’s trying to do. “I feel that it’s the first time I ever voted for someone who is really a good person,” Linda said. “Poor people here have no concept of poverty the way it exists in Mexico, yet in Mexico even the poorest are provided with medical care.”

Another volunteer, Annie, said that even though she has health coverage through her employer, one uncovered prescription to control her epilepsy costs about $300 per month. “I have to cut the pills in half and take a reduced dose just to afford them,” she said.

Richard Oswald
The health care service day brought in food donations, collected residents’ experiences with the current health care system, gathered signatures in support of health care reform, and attracted more volunteers for a future effort.

In the end Linda Nolan and her volunteers collected 64 signatures to the declaration of support for health care reform, eight stories of how high health care costs are impacting Americans, and three boxes of food donations to be distributed to the poor; plus she signed up eight new volunteers.

Linda sounded gratified: “Even though I have a $15,000 deductible, my insurance still costs over $850 every month. I’ve been working on this for decades. But this is really my first chance to actually do something about it.”

With that spirit, Linda might take on our Missouri weather next.

 

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