Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Mother Mayo or Follow the Leader(s)

I promise to return to our regularly scheduled programming--that of horses and hounds--in the next day or so. (Especially with Rachel running against all the big boys this weekend and the great race by Summer Bird last weekend! I know I've been remiss. *ashamed*)

Before I do, though, I have to spend a few minutes on something close to my heart, and Senator Ted Kennedy's as well--heath care reform. I'm very thankful to have had COBRA (a piece of legislation that Kennedy fought for) when I was downsized, however, it quickly became absolutely unaffordable. The Freelancers Union is a great option if you've been able to put together enough "billable hours," but it's not a perfect solution for insurance either.

I'd guess it's safe to say that there are a lot of other people out there in my same position, and it stinks. For those of you out there who believe that everyone who wants insurance has it, trust me, WE don't. And yet Senator Jim DeMint, wackadoodle Representative Michele Bachmann and many others have announced that they are pretty sure that access to affordable to health care is a privilege (like living on the seashore, getting the best table at a 4 star restaurant, or flying first class) and not a basic human right. And they are entitled to their opinions. The irony of this of course is that both have garnered thousands of votes on a platform of being devout and dutiful Christians...yet is it not part of said devotion to 'Christian values' to help others in their hour of need and to treat people with dignity? As a cradle Catholic--which I know means I'm not 'Christian enough' to those members of other 'more Christian' faiths (something I find as laughable as I do offensive, for the record), I feel it is very much part of any and all faiths to be part of the solution to making everyone's lives better. I would never want to have my own health care at the expense of another person's benefits. Everyone needs to have accessible and affordable health care at every point in their life.

There are many arguments against "socialized medicine" from various camps, but the fact that the Canadians, French, and British (as well as several other countries--the US ranks 35th in life expectancy and is bested by most of the EU countries) all have longer average life expectancies than Americans do suggests that they might have it right. Not perfect, but something to use as a jumping off point, perhaps. Certainly Canada, the UK, and France, are all properly faith-filled nations who care about their fellow citizenry enough to want everyone to have quality care throughout life.

All this brings me to the Mayo Clinic. I grew up in the shadow of "Mother Mayo" as we locals called it. It was, and is, in my not unbiased opinion, the best health care system anywhere. (Okay, I'll give a shout out to Cleveland Clinic, too, and Johns Hopkins!!) When the Mayo Clinic was founded after the "Great Rochester Tornado" of 1888, the Mayo triumvirate (father Dr. William Worrall Mayo, sons Dr. Charles H. and William J. Mayo) made sure that patients would be treated, regardless of how or if they could pay. Both Dr. William Worrall Mayo and his wife, Louise Abigail Wright, shared a broad view of charity and an awareness of social obligation. She believed that "life is not a question of what others owe to us, but of what we owe to others." In those early horse and buggy days there was no doubt a lot of payment made in chickens, eggs or the like. Whatever the patient could pay was taken for their services. Later, when Mayo was beginning to grow into the private group practice that we recognize today, it was still about patient care, not how much you could pay. There are myriad stories of people coming back to Mayo years later to settle up bills they owed. Yes, this was nearly one hundred years ago and before medicine had been tainted with the stain of greedy insurance companies and big pharma. Yes, it was in a small town in the midwest. But here's the kicker...Mayo hasn't changed ALL that much. It is still about patient care and the ideals of the founding Mayo brothers and their father are still the standard by which care is judged.

And now President Obama is citing the Mayo Clinic model as one of the systems for producing better care for lower costs. People in Rochester have long known that the 'Mayo Way' worked, and it worked awfully well. Mayo must have it at least a little bit right and they are stepping up to help shape policy in meaningful ways, for which I am thankful. As a teenager they removed my appendix and tonsils, and treated my allergies. In more recent years, Mayo doctors have fitted my parents with new hips and knees and for all of it, I'm most appreciative.

While understand that there are a number of layers to this issue that most lay people (like me) cannot even begin to fathom, I also know that at the simplest level we are all connected. We are all connected and we are all impacted. These things cannot be factored out of the debate. A high tide raises ALL boats and life is indeed not a question of what others owe us, but of what we owe others. If a nation is judged--even slightly--on how it treats the most vulnerable of it's citizens, then we need to get this right. Right for everyone of every race, creed, color, sexual orientation; right for both Yankees and Red Sox fans; right for those who like Brett Favre and those who don't. You get my point...this is about ALL of us.

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