Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Obamacare and LawCare

I’m feeling a little riled at the moment, and it’s the Americans again. President Obama has finally told Americans that since every civilised country provides healthcare for its citizens as a basic human right, it is high times the USA had a system approximating the NHS. So what happens?

The greedy, profiteering health insurance companies get the general population fired up against this “evil” idea with warnings that granny will be told to potter off quietly when her times comes, and there will be a two-year wait for essential operations. What is worse, they use the NHS to illustrate how bad “socialised healthcare” can be by dragging in some disaffected MP and unsuspecting member of the British public, and telling outright lies about how the NHS puts a value of £15,000 on six months of life. (In reality, this is the maximum the NHS will pay for additional experimental treatment predicted to prolong life by six months, but this is in addition to the regular, non-experimental kind.)

Twelve years ago my sister felt some stiffness in her elbow, so she went to her GP who thought it was arthritis. She wasn't convinced, so she went to see a different doctor who referred her to an oncologist. She had several tests and it was discovered that she had a bone cancer called Osteosarcoma. The survival rate for the type she had is 5%.

She was offered an immediate amputation of the arm, but she is a talented musician and wanted to keep the arm if at all possible. So she went to see a top specialist who thought he could remove the bone and give her a titanium prosthesis instead so she could keep her arm. But there was a risk that the two-week delay while the prosthesis was made could allow the cancer to spread.She decided to go for this anyway, and two weeks after her diagnosis she had the bone removed from shoulder to wrist, and the titanium bone put in. It was a very long operation, and she was in hospital for some time afterwards for ongoing treatment.

But it was a total success, she is still playing the piano and flute and has full control of the arm, although it is a little weaker than the other one. Every year she goes back to the hospital for further tests, just to keep an eye on everything and make sure the cancer hasn't spread.Had my sister been American she would have had the amputation. I can’t imagine any insurance company agreeing to a titanium (read: precious metal, very expensive) prosthesis, when it was a risky procedure and a simple and cheap amputation would have been safer. Not only that, but if she was privately insured she would have had to pay a large deductible. And if she didn’t have insurance, she would have had a choice of death or bankruptcy.

Unfortunately it is still true that, as wonderful as the NHS is (and I do believe that it is), there are some things you still have to pay for. It is difficult to get treatment for addiction on the NHS because NICE guidelines say that containment or control are better than cure. There can also be a long waiting list for counselling on the NHS, so we often have to ask other charitable bodies for funding for people. We also have a very small Welfare Fund, which we use sparingly, if help cannot be obtained from any other source. We agree with President Obama – as good health as can be achieved is everyone’s basic right.

LawCare’s free and confidential helpline is available 9-7.30 Monday-Friday, 10-4 weekends, on:
0800 279 6888 (Solicitors, Law Students and Legal Executives in England and Wales)
0800 279 6869 (Solicitors, Advocates and Law Students in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man)
0800 018 4299 (Barristers, Clerks and Judges in England and Wales)
1800 991801 (Solicitors in the Republic of Ireland)

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