Sen Joe Lieberman likes to take center stage whenever he can, it seems, and this time he is threatening to side with the Republicans, and filibuster the Senate's health care bill unless the Democrats drop expanded Medicare coverage and the public option from the proposed bill. Joe, I like your way of doing business so much, that I have a counter-threat: if you make good on your plans to filibuster a bill that would provide health care to millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans, I will not only donate to your opponent in the next election, but I will volunteer for your opponent's campaign, and call as many Connecticut voters as I can. (I'm already a proud member of the face book group: if Joe Lieberman filibusters health care, I will donate to his opponent, and dear reader, you can join it, too.)
Why am I so fed up with Joe Turncoat Lieberman? As an internal medicine doctor who has been taking care of uninsured patients in community health centers for more than a dozen years, it seems utterly unjust that one legislator could derail the chance for millions more Americans to obtain health care coverage, especially since Congress is so close to passing a bill that does include a public option.
I see countless patients every week who are ill-served by our current system. They lack necessary access to medications, subspecialty physicians, important diagnostic tests, and hospitalization for serious diseases that require comprehensive treatment. When uninsured patients fall through the cracks and do not receive the care they need, they suffer a huge monetary and personal cost. We all pay for it through taxes and higher heath insurance premiums to cover lost hospital revenue
Last week, while working in my community health center where we mainly serve uninsured people, I started to care for a new patient. In his early 40's he had been healthy until he suffered a heart attack and subsequent cardiac arrest last February. He made it to the hospital and had several stents placed in his coronary arteries, and had been doing pretty well until recently. An unemployed father and husband, he could no longer pay for his medical care and his expensive medications. He could still afford a few of the generic prescriptions, but out of economic necessity, he stopped taking Plavix, the medication that all patients must take who have coronary artery stents. This blood thinner helps keep the stents open and functioning. Patients who stop the medicine run the risk of having their stents close and having another heart attack and more heart damage.
My community health center can sometimes provide free medication for a short period of time to uninsured patients, and our counselors help patients apply for free medication from the pharmaceutical companies, but this unfortunate man did not find out about our programs in time. So he ran out of money and out of medication, and by the time he came to see me, he was complaining of chest pain. I was concerned that he could be having another heart attack, and so I followed the standard chest pain protocol. I talked examined him, checked his cardiogram, gave him some oxygen, and had my nurse administer nitroglycerine to try to relieve his pain. I also told him I would have to call 911 and have an ambulance take him to the emergency department for additional tests. Then he started to cry.
He was not crying in physical pain. He was sobbing because he knew that another trip to the emergency room by ambulance would incur thousands of dollars in costs, and he was still trying to stay afloat and pay off his previous hospital bill, even though he was unemployed. A health care system that would provide expensive but life-saving medications to patients even while they were unemployed makes a lot more sense than the one we have now, doesn't it? An expanded public option and more government-run health care could have kept this man out of my office, out of an ambulance and out of an emergency room, and could have saved him from financial ruin. Plavix costs about $200/month, a hefty price tag for an uninsured father, but a government plan that would pay for it is far more cost-effective than the thousands of dollars required for rehospitalization and possibly restenting.
So, Joe, I can't afford to buy expensive medications for all of my uninsured patients who really need them. But I can afford to contribute to your opponent and make calls to Connecticut voters from my cell phone during the next campaign. By putting yourself in the middle of the universal health care debate, you may end up denying full expansion of health care to millions of Americans. It's only right that we deny you your Senate seat in the next election.
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