Sunday, August 9, 2009

Obamacare: How Much is a Life Worth?




I have been reading a lot about Obama's proposed health care plan. The internet has been helpful, but sometimes you have to talk with a live human being. My source is a man named Efraim. He is a case worker for a state legislator. In Brooklyn, a lot of legislators have at least one full time case worker who cuts through the bureaucracy and gets services for constituents. Whether it is food stamps or health care or an appropriate school placement for a child, Efraim is one of many case workers who are employed as trouble shooters. He loves his work. He relishes the thought that he is getting paid to fight for the little guy and to get paid for it. Some of his favourite stories are of people who had no love for Jews but came to like and respect him for the work he did for them.


Efraim was shaking his head in disagreement when I told him my negative opinions of Obama's health plan. We were both talking in a Flatbush pizza shop after a class given by a prominent rabbi.

"I've got news for you." Efraim said bluntly. "Health care rationing is already here."

"What do you mean?" I asked.

Efraim is the kind of guy who makes you feel good about losing an argument. He does not call you names. He does not question you and twist your words against you. He comes up with anecdotes and facts. The longer you argue with him, the more information you walk away with. I ordered a Greek salad. It was going to be a long night.

"A West Indian guy walked into my office. He was about eighty years old. Very well spoken. "

"I'm dying of cancer" he told my friend Efraim after shaking hands and taking a seat. He put an accordion folder on the desk. It contained his Jamaican birth certificate, issued when Jamaica was a colony, and naturalisation papers that dated back to Efraim's elementary school days back in the sixties. He pulled out one paper and placed it ashen faced on Efraim's desk.

"This is my death warrant". he said with a mixture of sadness and anger. "The HMO won't pay for my chemotherapy. Without that, I die."

Efraim looked at the papers. Anger welled up in him as he looked at a two week span of correspondence during which the old man carried a cancer within him, a ticking time bomb sapping his life force. Efraim had fought such battles before. The chemotherapy was not experimental. It was expensive. It was very expensive. The man was old but he was active and lucid. With no one by his side, the widowed elderly man said firmly and clearly that he wanted to live. He wanted to fight for life. His HMO said no. If he wanted to fight for life, it would not be with their ammunition.

Efraim knew who to call. He collected as much information as he would possibly need to fight for his client. Efraim was a regular caller at the offices of the United Jewish Organisation of Williamsburg. They encountered people who were denied treatment by an HMO that they developed a specialty in fighting such decisions. It surprised no one that an elderly retiree was being made to walk through a labyrinth of administrative regulations. Getting an HMO to pay was a lot like getting a rich movie star to admit paternity. Many had tired of jumping through hoops to satisfy their HMO. But there are people who fight them, either for a living or as a matter of conviction.

Some people want to make greedy capitalists do the right thing. Efraim had a touch of that. His grandfather was a union organiser who was beaten into a coma by company goons. His grandfather's blood flowed though his veins, and his memory lived. But what really drove Efraim in his daily mission was the belief that all life is a gift on loan from G-d. He believed that it was to be nurtured and maintained. This underlying belief was a common denominator with his colleagues in the UJO. Efraim sat with the UJO case workers and answered questions on his clien's behalf. At one point, he pulled out his cell phone and got the old man on the phone.

Six days later, Efraim got a call from the old man. His HMO had reversed their decision. Efraim felt a quiet sense of relief that the elderly gentleman for whom he advocated was being allowed to fight. His relief and feelings of happiness were tempered with anger at the time the old man was forced to wait. To Efraim it was one step above a contract murder. When someone is knocking on heaven's door, you don't ask questions. You help them fight the good fight.

My talk with Efraim opened my eyes. Health care rationing is already here. I am collecting stories. I will be sharing them with my readers. I will disguise details for the sake of confidentiality, and for no other reason.

I am still against Obamacare. Most of my state representatives in my district and adjacent areas are liberal Democrats. They were overjoyed when Obama was elected They like to fight for the common man. They do a good job of fighting the HMOs. But when the government is running the show, where will we turn when the government says no? It's an uphill battle already. How much harder will it be when the government is running the HMO and policing it?

I am thank G-d still healthy. But someone has already figured out how much my life is worth, and how much they will spend to save it. I think that my life, like that of the old West Indian gentleman in Efraim's office is more than a profit loss statement. There is a Jewish saying that "The soul of a person is the candle of G-d."

Efraim is one of many people who is cupping his hand around flames of life as the winds of ill health threaten to extinguish them. I do not want his hand or that of any healer stilled in the defense of life. Every life is sacred. The only Bookkeeper who has any right to measure them does not do so on our scales but on His own. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well said, Mr. Stettner!