This afternoon, I found myself at a vet, thinking about the state of our health care system. Maggie and I were there with Kelly, a 5 year old beagle who was hit by a car several weeks ago. This past weekend, we’d agreed to foster her for the local animal shelter so that she could get the personal attention that she needs. Today, Kelly needed to have her bandage changed so we made the appointment and took her in.
Health care has been on my mind quite a bit recently. It’s been in the news today because of Obama’s choice of Tom Daschle as Secretary of Health and Human Services. On a more personal level, one of my good friends has been wending his way through the health system after having a bad accident on his bike. And now there’s Kelly.
Beagles tend to move through the shelter pretty quickly. They’re small, friendly, and good with kids, which makes them desirable adoptees. Kelly was one of those beagles and was adopted several years ago.
On the 8th, Kelly was brought to the shelter by the police, who’d picked her up with a broken leg after she was hit by a car. Thanks to the microchip that the shelter had implanted on adoption, the shelter was able to contact Kelly’s owners. However, when told that they’d be liable for Kelly’s vet bills, they signed her over to the shelter.
It’s easy to think of her former owners as heartless, but the surgery that Kelly really needs costs two to three thousand dollars. That’s more money than I can easily rustle up. It’s also more money than the shelter can afford.
We were sitting in the vet office this afternoon because, although Kelly needs orthopedic surgery to heal properly, nobody can afford to pay for it. Unless she’s adopted soon by someone who can, Kelly is going to have to heal as best she can and deal with long-term consequences. Without surgery, she’ll probably have bad arthritis and may have to have her leg amputated within 5 years. They’re a bit worried now that she’s had a lot of muscle atrophy, but on the other hand, if Kelly continues to favor that leg the eventual arthritis might not bother her as much.
It’s a sad situation, but what really gets me is that it’s not unique. Not only are there lots of animals out there in similar situations, there are people who are weighing what they know is best against what they can afford.
With a dog, there isn’t any real economic cost to avoiding surgery. A three-legged dog can be just as loving and friendly as a four-legged one. For people the decision to avoid surgery, and save thousands in the short-term, may lead to tens of thousands or more in lost economic activity. Your work possibilities are much more limited when you have crippling arthritis or you’re missing limbs.
Things aren’t much better if you manage to borrow money to pay for the surgery. Medical expenses are one of the top reasons people file for bankruptcy. They can be so expensive that many hospitals will provide assistance even for those making as much as $30,000 a year!
Health insurance is a necessity so that you don’t take the risk of being wiped out financially for years to come. Unfortunately, it’s not only a considerable expense but a confusing proposition. It’s not easy to figure out exactly what is and isn’t covered. What counts as preventative care? What requires a maternity rider?
It’s even worse if you have a Health Savings Account, since that money is checked by the IRS. This means that your coverage is determined not only by your own savings and your insurance company but by what the IRS will allow. Naturally, the IRS doesn’t have any hard-and-fast rules, only guidelines.
Tom Daschle’s appointment as Secretary of Health and Human Services indicates to me that Obama is making health care reform a major issue early on. I’ve also heard rumors that health care reform will be tied to economic stimulus measures (which makes sense to me, since it would amount to a reduction of 5-8% in corporate payroll costs). Even if we don’t end up with a universal health system, I’m glad that the topic has been made a priority. Our system right now is just heartbreaking.
And if you’re looking for a pet (dog, cat, rabbit, mouse, or llama), I encourage you to head down to the Bloomington Animal Shelter to see who’s available. Everyone we met was very friendly, staff and pet.