March 10, 2008
Alternet, Huffington Post, Yahoo! News
Health care has become the top domestic issue for most Americans this electoral season — and for good reason. By nearly any measure, the system simply does not work. Heart-wrenching stories of its shortcomings can be read ad infinitum. And while they rightly evoke feelings of empathy and anger, experiencing the system’s brokenness first-hand — as I recently did — gave me a new understanding of its horror.
I have cystic fibrosis (CF), a serious genetic disease that primarily affects the digestive and respiratory systems. My lungs create excess mucus that is thicker than it should be. This means I am more susceptible to everyday lung infections — such as the flu or pneumonia — which can, in turn, be life-threatening.
Despite amazing advances in medical research over the last couple decades, the average person with the disease still does not live to see his or her 40th birthday. The best we can do is stick to long, arduous treatment regimens — and trust, often in vain, that the U.S. medical system will help us do that.
Cystic fibrosis is a rare ailment; there are only about 30,000 cases in the United States. In business terms, this means that medicines used to treat CF are developed for a very limited market. And since insurance and pharmaceutical companies need to make their billions, the costs of the various drugs that I must take on a daily basis are insanely expensive. (Last spring, I calculated that my prescriptions cost more than $60,000 annually.)
That makes me a life-long cash cow for the drug companies and, paradoxically, an enormous liability for any insurance company — one that ideally should be expunged as quickly as possible. Indeed, I’m the worst kind of member to have on the rolls: someone with a chronic illness whose medical expenses, as long as a cure remains elusive, will always be exorbitant. I show no profit potential.