With the Health-Care Debate, Let's Begin with Honesty

By Ernesto Tinajero 8-13-2009

"Has he been pre-authorized? Because if the test hasn't been, it may not be covered and you may be caught with the bill as my husband and I learned." Her jagged words hit me like a political ad. My heart spiraled down the drain of despair. My young infant was getting a test ordered by his pediatrician, a test scheduled in haste after a routine check-up, a test that may or may not be covered by my insurance. She said that she would get the ball rolling, but that maybe my wife and I should discuss whether we wanted to go through with the test. We could be on the hook for thousands of dollars we do not have.

Here was our dilemma: Do we gamble with insurance or with our 4-month-old son's health? Of course, we chose our son's health. Could we pre-authorize it before our visit? No, we did not have the codes, so we were at the mercy of the bureaucrats at the hospital and insurance companies. One error by a stranger and we could go down into the netherworld of red tape. I could not blame the receptionist, as she explained that she and her husband were caught before in our nation's health-care web. They were still paying for it after three years.

My company does the best it can to provide my family with health care. Yet, every year I have worked for them, the price goes up and the coverage goes down. We pay more and get less. Again, I am not alone in this.

The month of August, because of the congressional recess, has become a cacophony of media on the issue of health care. We are being bombarded with a campaign of shock and awe about what the proposed changes to health care will mean, about how bad health care is in Canada and Britain, about how the government wants to kill our grandpa, and about the sinister takeover of health care by a covert socialist. Lost in the mix is the simple fact that our health care is broken. We pay the highest price for our health care, and get care that is behind countries like Chile, Saudi Arabia, and Cyprus. In other words, we pay for prime rib and get a bowl full of gristle.

Some may grizzle at my characterizing our health care as broken, but Dr. Atul Gawande charts the places that pay the highest price for health care in his New Yorker article, "The Cost Conundrum." The article reveals that places like MacAllen, Texas, are paying the most for health care but are not the ones with the best health care. The Mayo clinic, with its lower cost, has the better care. We are not getting our money's worth. No amount of fear-mongering will change this. We have to stop burying our heads in the sand and realize that our nation's current health-care system is not working for a majority of us.

We must start our conversations about health-care reform with the honest truth: Remaining on the current path will lead to destruction. We need to go the narrow path of asking the question of how we are going to move forward, ignoring the voices that provoke unnecessary fear. My son and his generation are counting on us.

Ernesto Tinajero is a freelance writer in Spokane, Washington, who earned his master's degree in theology from Fuller Seminary. Visit his blog at www.life-and-faith.org.

To learn more about health-care reform, click here to visit Sojourners' Health-Care Resources Web page.

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