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Next week our Representatives to Congress and Senators will be back in North Carolina. I for one will be paying them visits and I encourage those of you who want health reform to visit or call.
My stakes have risen in the last two weeks. I found out I not only have Multiple Sclerosis but I have Primary Progressive the form the new drugs do nothing for. There is no treatment or cure. I just find it harder to walk a little at a time. I am scared for my future. I used to do manual labor. I have done sheet metal, and plumbing, HVAC, and worked with animals. I fear the financial aspects more than the threat of a wheel chair. I do not relish anyone taking care of me. Health reform is not an interesting political exercise for me it is about my life. I am discouraged but I am not giving up not on myself and not health care reform. I know many of us have made many calls, sent many letters and e-mails, and visited. It is important to let our elected officials know we still care about this important issue.

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My health care costs take up a large portion of our income. You may say “So that is your problem”. Actually it becomes a lot of peoples problems. I have five animals who do not get yearly exams and dental cleanings like they used to. The veterinarian is losing hundreds of dollars. Multiply that by other clients who are cutting back and he may have to cut back and lose an employee. Then that employee suffers. I canceled all service contracts with plumbing, hvac, and pest control companies. Again if others have to do the same those companies will lose employees. Some of these employees will lose insurance adding to the health care problem. I rarely get a hair cut any more. Clothes come from the Goodwill. We will not buy another car until the house is paid off in ten years. We will not be going on vacation. I have not flown since the eighties. The mall is a place to walk for exercise in bad weather. Even the hardware store is seeing less of us. I closed down most of my credit cards so banks and stores are not making money on interest. Eating out is rare and far between. If you work in fast food you are out of luck with my business. I even had to quit my yoga class due to cost.
I used to give to charity. Now I have nothing to spare. Yes many people and organizations are hurting as more and more of us have to put a large portion of our income into our medical costs. It is no different for a State or the Country.

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healthI think we need to change from being a passive consumer society when it comes to health care to being an active consumer society. Our health care model now is based on waiting until a person is sick or injured and then going to a health care provider to be fixed. This is not realistic and more expensive. This only works in the case of acute illness or accident. How could the system change?

It can first of all change on the individual level. We can take responsibility for our own health. Prevention and education is important. Knowledge is power. We each of us needs to know our risk factors for disease and take steps to lessen them. If we have a chronic disease we need to understand how to best manage it. The obvious for all of us is exercise and nutrition. We would not put the wrong fuel in my gas tank but we sometimes are thoughtless about what goes into our bodies. Most people do not even drink enough water.

Record keeping and coordinating of medical care. As individuals we can keep a record from all our doctors. I grew up in a Navy family I had one medical record I kept with me and took to all appointments for over twenty years. I try to do this now. I also keep a list of all medical providers, conditions I have, medications, and emergency contacts in my wallet. I also have a list of conditions, surgeries and medications I have been on in the past for new doctors.

I try to understand each condition I have so that I can manage it. I realize that even when a medication is expensive it is less expensive than not taking it and ending up needing more expensive care such as hospitalization if I do not take it. My goal with three chronic illness is to stay away from the ER, hospitals, and to keep doctors visits to a minimum. My pharmaceuticals which with copays are hundreds a month help me with that goal.

How could the government, health insurance companies, and health care providers change us to an active consumer society? First they need to realize it is less expensive to provide prevention, education, and chronic disease management, including expensive pharmaceuticals, than it is to wait until the patient is really sick. Now the system spends most of its resources when the individual has not had prevention, education, and disease management and ends up in the ER or hospital. Also having coordination of care would be beneficial. Even with in a medical system communication breaks down. We need to update technology. There is a lot of needless redundancy. I have a hard time getting medical records transferred between providers. What if you are in accident and unconscious? It takes time to get a medical history. Electronic records which could be retrieved by an ambulance or ER with medical conditions, medications, allergies could save your life.

I take responsibility for my wellness. I keep records up to date. I make sure all my providers know what treatments and medications I am on. I take my medications as prescribed. I take responsibility for dieting and fitness. I educate myself on all my conditions. I even have written treatment plans I can look at  to see what steps I need to take in any situation. By doing all the above I have kept my health care costs to a minimum and avoided hospitalization with three severe chronic illnesses. I still spend 40% of our income on health care, but it could be worse.

Wishing you a healthier 2010.

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senatehealthWatching the Senate debate health care is painful. It is like watching paint dry, but this issue is so important I can’t turn away.   Senator McCain keeps talking about the need for tort reform and using Texas as an example.

Of course, a quick check at www.statehealthfacts.org shows employer health premiums are slightly higher in Texas than in NC and about average for the South.  We may need some targeted tort reform, but no one should expect it to solve our health care cost crisis.

“ Ponzi scheme” is the new Republican catchword for the bill. What money does Congress collect and only use for that purpose? Where does the money come from for the wars?

These Senators are playing with people’s lives. Every thirty seconds in this country someone declares medical bankruptcy. People are dying for lack of health care. People are delaying going to the doctor and ending up with more expensive and serious illnesses to treat. The system is penny wise and pound foolish.

Medicare Advantage was started because the health insurance companies claimed they could administer Medicare  for less.  This turned out not to be the case. Seniors are on regular Medicare have to pay the difference for their brethren on Medicare Advantage. I think the worst legislation for Seniors was the government not negotiating with drug companies and the donut hole. I talk to Seniors everyday who have prescriptions which are several thousand dollars a month for one medication.

I want all these Senators who want to block this legislation to look their constituents who are struggling and afraid in the eye and tell us we do not deserve affordable health care. I know for those citizens who want health care reform it is getting tiring making the phone calls, writing the letters, signing the petitions, and rallying.

We can’t stop now and that is what the opposition is aiming for.  If we lose this bill there will not be another one.

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I spent the last few days glued to CSPAN listening to both the Republican ahealthnd the Democratic view points on health care reform. The Republicans did a lot of fear mongering but offered no solutions at all.

They came off a little bit heartless. Making it seem that if you are too young for Medicare you just have to stay well enough to not need health care and if you get sick it is your own fault.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R), who did not vote to debate the bill, confused me. She said where you live in the country should not affect your health care costs. She talked about her constituents having $30,000 deductibles for a family and how that was not acceptable. She said if you have a good idea it should not matter what party you belong to. Then why did not one Republican want to even debate or amend the current bill?

Somebody in the Republican party has to have an idea besides partisan obstructionism.

Sen.Tom Harkin (D) said the bill will stop lifetime and yearly caps by the insurance companies. It will also stop rescission, the practice of dropping a policy holder when he gets sick. You will be able to keep your children on your policy until they are twenty-six. Small businesses will get a 35% tax credit for their health insurance. There will be a high risk pool for those with preexisting conditions to buy insurance. All of these things will be implemented as soon as the bill becomes law. Wellness and prevention will be foremost. No deductibles or copays cancer screenings for those on Medicare.

Sen. Kent Conrad (D) said our health care system is unsustainable. He said we spend twice as much as any country in the developing world and have a worse outcome. He said the family budget is threatened, American business is threatened, and the Government can not withstand the rising cost of health care. He said it is not perfect but it is a good beginning. He said the vote for cloture is the beginning not the end. He said the bill is fully paid for, reduces long and short term deficits, expands coverage to 94% of  mericans, contains insurance market reforms, and it contains delivery system reforms. The plan will extend Medicare solvency by four or five years , it will curb over payments, and creates the Independent Medicare Advisory Board.

Sen. Paul Kirk (D) said it best when he said it is not a matter of this bill or the status quo. Status quo means something stays the same. If nothing is done health insurance premiums, co pays, deductibles, prescription costs, and medical costs will soar. The  average middle class family bears the brunt of the problem.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D) said the working middle class are stuck. If you or your spouse gets sick you can not even change jobs.

I held my breath during the vote for cloture. I did not think any Democratic Senator or Sen. Joe Lieberman would want to go down in history as the one who stopped such a historic vote from being discussed. Now if only the Republicans would think about the fate of the working class in this country as they go on to debate this bill. As my father used to say be a part of the solution and not the problem.