Humane health care

Maggie petting Kelly the beagleThis 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.

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7 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Linnea said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 2:15 pm

    Have you looked into pet insurance? I realize that it wouldn’t necessarily help with her current needs, but it’s something to consider for long term health costs. Petinsurance.com gave me a quote of about $50 a month for a dog like Kelly (in Indiana), including up to $14,000 annual coverage after $50 per incident deductibles. It also covers most vaccinations and de-worming. The basic coverage is $25.

    Would you be open to folks making donations towards Kelly’s surgery?

  2. 2

    Will said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 3:13 pm

    Yeah, pet insurance seems reasonable to me. If you don’t get insurance for preventative care (and the shelter already does the basic shots and spaying/neutering, so you don’t have to pay extra for that), it’s less than $30/month or $15/month if you only need $9,000 of annual coverage. I know someone who got their money’s worth for pet insurance when their cat was hurt by a dog. For me, I think the peace of mind knowing that I could get them whatever treatment they needed regardless of cost would make it worthwhile.

    Unfortunately, there’s not much time before Kelly has to have the surgery (if they wait too long, they’d have to re-break the bone before the surgery which makes it much worse). I don’t think we could raise enough money before then.

    However, I encourage you to donate some money (or time) to your local animal shelter. They’re always looking for people to help and every little donation is appreciated.

  3. 3

    arduous said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 3:31 pm

    Will, I am really really hopeful that Obama does make health care his first priority, or one of his first priorities. I can’t tell you what a relief it is right now, being in England, and not having to worry about insurance. Although I am going to the US for winter break, and I have to figure out something for the month….

  4. 4

    Jessica said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 7:10 pm

    Even people with health insurance go bankrupt over medical bills. I had insurance when my son was born, but I’m still paying off thousands of dollars of bills for my 36 hour, pain med free hospital stay. My sister, who had a heavily medicated birth that ended in C-section and a four day stay at the hospital, is in even worse shape.
    The health care system in this country is in a very sorry state indeed.
    I will keep Kelly in my prayers!

  5. 5

    Will said,

    November 20, 2008 @ 9:57 pm

    That’s very true. My friend has health insurance, but he’ll still have spent between $5,000 and $10,000 by the time this is all done.

    Here in Indiana, normal health insurance doesn’t cover maternity care, so you have to pay an additional $100/month or so for that (for at least a year) and then you have a $1500 deductible. In the best case, then, you’re paying over $3,000.

    I think the un- (and under-) insured have it worse just because they get much of their medical care through the emergency room, which is even more expensive!

  6. 6

    Updates in haiku form | GreenCouple.com said,

    December 15, 2008 @ 11:19 pm

    […] dog Kelly Found a new permanent home We’re happy but […]

  7. 7

    Human health care | GreenCouple.com said,

    December 31, 2008 @ 11:11 pm

    […] time I talked about health care, it was because I’d gone to the vet and seen how much health care can cost for animals. […]

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