The Fine Print


Photo credit: The New York Times

Under a morphine haze, my 56 year-old mother begged us not to take her home to die.

In the few minutes we’d left her alone, “someone from insurance” had swooped in to her hospital room to tell her all about the hospice section of the local nursing home. Her insurance covered this, they said. She was guaranteed 24/7 care and pain management.

My mother feared dying at home for good reason. Decades earlier her little brother had died of brain cancer, and some of his last hours were spent at home in horrific pain when his meds ran out. She could never un-hear his screams.

The day we moved her to the nursing home, there was a catch. The hospice section was full. No big deal, the nurse manager insisted. Happens all the time. My mother could stay in another room until a hospice bed opened up.

No big deal translated to a very big deal for the insurance company. It did not matter that my mother was signed in for hospice. She was in the wrong bed and they would not pay.

This was our fault. We’d taken the nursing home’s word when we should have read the fine print ourselves.

I recalled my mother’s story last week during the House healthcare debate. The devastation that happens when we buy the story we are told vs. reading the reality in the fine print.

“I will fully admit that I did not [read the bill],” Rep. Chris Collins told CNN after the vote. “But I can assure you my staff did. We have to rely on our staff. I’m very comfortable that we have a solution to the disaster called Obamacare.”

How does he know he has the solution? Would he buy a house without reading the inspection report? Without knowing the amount of his mortgage?

The president tweeted his assurances. We will have “much lower premiums and deductibles while at the same time taking care of pre-existing conditions!” If the president’s promises are true, why did the GOP immediately scrub all information about covering pre-existing conditions from their website?

Award-winning writer and surgeon Atul Gawande has studied the bill in depth. He offers these facts:

  1.  This bill will shift almost $1 trillion in tax relief from the bottom 40% to top 2%;
  2. it will massively increase deductibles and other costs for older and lower income people; and
  3. the bill will increase early deaths so significantly that Social Security will save $3 billion.

President Trump is all about putting points on the board, “We are going to win so much, you people are going to get sick and tired of winning!”

Or maybe we’re just going to get sick.

I am in no way suggesting the original Affordable Care Act is perfect. It needs fixing! So fix it!

But I have a lot of questions for the president. Has he read his own bill? Does he have any idea what’s in it? Or is he trusting Speaker Ryan to hammer out the boring, mundane details that can destroy our lives?

The wealthiest 0.1 percent will receive approx. $200,000 each in tax relief by cutting healthcare for the masses. As much as I am sure this group—a group that includes our billionaire president and several of his staff—is barely scraping by, this blatant stuffing their own pockets is unconscionable.

Trump says being president is harder than he thought it would be, yet he has spent 33 of his first 100 days at Trump-branded properties. Maybe the presidency would be more manageable if he worked more than four days a week. If he stayed at the White House we are already paying for. If he spent less time shooting-the-shit on the golf course and more time reading the fine print of the snake oil he’s selling.

My mother died after only ten days at the nursing home. The right room never became available and her insurance did not pay a dime. Fine print. How would we have paid for her care if she’d lived longer?

The president’s empty huckster act has blistered thin, even with staunch conservatives like Bill Kristol who tweeted after the healthcare vote, “it is embarrassing to have Donald Trump as president.”

It is.

But embarrassing or not, we need the president to succeed. We need him to treat the presidency as more than a photo op, as more than a personal money-making scheme. We need him to understand exactly how his healthcare plan affects real lives.

Let’s hope, unlike Rep. Collins and President Trump, the 13 men on the newly-formed Senate committee fully understand the gravity of their job.

Dear Senate Leader McConnell: Please step up and be the grownups in the room. American lives are literally in your hands.