Reform or Deform: Part Two

To read the first installment of this three-part series, please click here. To read the third installment, please click here.

A poll conducted July 24-27, 2009 by the Wall Street Journal asked people whether they thought President Barack Obama’s health plan was a good or bad idea. 42% called it a bad idea while 36% said it was a good idea. Only 15% of those with private insurance thought their health care would improve under his plan.

Count me among the privately insured who have little hope that things will improve under the proposed legislation. I’m all for fixing what’s broken, but this bill worries me.

Last week, I told how the substandard healthcare my family received through the military influenced my ability to trust a government-run program. This became clearest during our assignment in Scotland, when a miscarriage forced me to utilize the UK’s National Health Service.

The Navy sent me to the NHS hospital, a dark, depressing cinder block building. I was given a rickety old bed in a ward of newly delivered mothers. There was one small bathroom for the 12 of us. I actually lost my baby alone in that public toilet stall as the cries of newborns filled my ears.

Nurses made rounds once a day. There were no TVs. When thirsty, I got my own water from the shared bathroom sink, and my husband had to bring in food. The beds were so ancient; raising the head was like adjusting a cheap poolside lounge chair.

I miscarried on a Sunday. Because ultrasounds were only performed on Monday mornings, I had to stay overnight. At the crack of dawn, all patients needing ultrasounds were rounded up, given huge cups of water to ensure the full bladder needed for the procedure, and sent to wait in the radiology department.

After sitting for ages on a hard wooden bench, I felt sick from my near-bursting bladder. A nurse followed me into the restroom and actually stood over me as I went, scolding me not to void too much, or I would have to wait another week for my ultrasound.

It doesn’t sound like things have improved since my experience 17 years ago. A British friend, Danielle, recently suffered a miscarriage. She and I share the same endocrine disorder that can make it difficult to get—–and stay—–pregnant.

This side of the pond, it has been common knowledge for at least a decade that taking a simple hormonal supplement through the first trimester can usually prevent the repeated miscarriages we often suffer. American doctors routinely prescribe this inexpensive cure the moment the test comes back positive. I wouldn’t be pregnant now without it.

But when Danielle asked her NHS midwife to check her hormone levels, the woman didn’t know what she was talking about. Testing went against policy; if you miscarried, that was just bad luck.

When Danielle began spotting at 8 weeks, she was told to wait for the standard 12-week ultrasound. One Friday night, just a few days before she reached 12 weeks, Danielle began bleeding heavily.

She went to the ER, only to be sent home for a familiar reason: they didn’t do ultrasounds on the weekend. Excruciating pain led her back to the hospital hours later.

Left alone in a cubicle, her bleeding became too graphic to write about here. A nurse finally gave her some Tylenol and towels to clean herself up. At Danielle’s request, she was sent to a different hospital that had a mobile ultrasound unit. But when she arrived, she was once again denied, told that the machine was too old to detect anything. After spending a day alone on the maternity ward, not knowing if the miscarriage was complete, Danielle checked out of the hospital. She returned later that week for the long-scheduled ultrasound, to verify what her heart already knew: her baby was gone.

A couple of months after my NHS hospitalization, my husband needed a minor surgical procedure. Luckily for him, the only doctor available was part of the private health care system.

As much as the NHS hospital resembled a dungeon, the private hospital was like a castle. The walls were covered in rich walnut paneling. Chandeliers, oil paintings and Persian rugs completed the decor. His beautiful room had the amenities of a five-star hotel.

When they took him back for surgery, the nurse brought me a lace-covered tray topped with a full tea set and a plate of cookies. I couldn’t help recalling the paper cups of water in the maternity hospital as I kicked back in my velvet chair and sipped the soothing tea from the delicate china.

Our government promises to lessen the gap between healthcare for the rich and poor, but I fear it’s more likely to end up as exaggerated as our experiences in the UK. People who can afford to pay for better care, will, while the rest us will have the same choices we had in the military: take it or leave it. I have no desire to go back to that.

Congress is on recess, so we still have time to study the details of this bill, H.R. 3200, and let our representatives know what we think about it. One word of advice before diving in: make sure you have some coffee nearby, because it is filled with enough mind-numbing legalese to send you into a coma. It’s no wonder some representatives don’t want to actually read the bill before voting. But I say it’s time we hold them accountable for doing what we hired them to do—–represent us.