Other than the steady decline to be expected with my husband’s Parkinson’s disease, there is little change to report in our situation since I wrote about our family’s health care challenges in The Nation last spring. Costs continue to mount as his independence ebbs. Caretaking is my life. But what has not changed for us is not nearly as important as what has changed in the healthcare debate. A year ago, amid post-election euphoria, the healthcare debate seemed to offer real hope. A public option that would inject competition into the healthcare market and theoretically bring the cost of healthcare under some semblance of control seemed to be the most minimal reform Washington could conceivably offer a nation fed up with a system that was failing us. Today, a considerably diluted public option is flitting around the edges of the Senate debate as an extravagant idea that might, if enough deals can be struck, sneak through. Meanwhile, a group of House Democrats sacrificed women’s health by inserting restrictions on abortion broader than even the most ambitious Republicans could have imagined a year ago, and Senate Democrats may pursue the same strategy. The article below, which I wrote last April, is as relevant as ever.
It was a crisp and brilliant autumn day last October when the medical and financial crises with which my family had successfully, if barely, coped for seven years became a catastrophe.
My husband had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2002, a year after our daughter was paralyzed in a horse-riding accident. His balance had deteriorated until he fell two or three times at home last summer. In the face of his diminishing physical condition, a single fall could result in disastrous injury. We scheduled an appointment with his neurologist in Washington.
We pulled up to the main entrance of the hospital after the two-hour drive from our home near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. My husband opened his door, grabbed the roof of the car and began to pull himself out as I walked around to help him. I was too late. In an instant–time slowed enough for me to see the danger but raced ahead too fast for me to reach him–he lost his grip and fell to the concrete, shattering his hip, breaking his femur and causing internal bleeding that kept him in the hospital for months.
My husband is a retired college professor, and what the teaching profession lacks in salary it often makes up for with generous benefits. His health insurance would cover most of the emergency costs related to the fall–the surgeries, the hospitalization, the drugs. But in the astronomical sums the cost of medical care often entails, “most” is not a reassuring word. Months later, as his discharge from the hospital drew near, I sat in my living room looking at the bills piling up on the table. The co-pays, uncovered care and other costs had already reached $8,000, and we had virtually nothing left.