Why Do We Tie Employers to Sickbeds?

There’s no easy way to give a sufficient account of this letter to Andrew Sullivan, posted under the theme “The View From Your Sickbed.”  I’ll do what I can, but give it a quick read to understand the details.

Bascially, a 33-year-old woman died after overdosing on Tlyenol, a problem further complicated by lupus. In the rush to give her care, the hospital didn’t get the woman’s new insurance information, so it worked under the assumption that the liver transplant she needed to survive wasn’t covered.  Her insurance from her previous job didn’t cover a tansplant, while her insurance from her current job did. The hospital lost time figuring out solutions to a problem it didn’t really have.

This is all unfortunate, no less so from the apparent inevitability of her death suggested in the reader’s e-mail.  But I wouldn’t get here from the facts provided, as the e-mailer did:

But, if there was a universal healthcare plan in place, all of that would have been unnecessary. This woman’s condition and treatment wouldn’t have been contingent on just what was and was not covered by her particular plan, and the simple fact she had recently changed jobs would not have confused what options were available, and a bureaucracy would not have come between her and her doctor.

This conclusion leaves unquestioned the assumptions upon which our current system is built.  Specifically, if we didn’t tie health insurance to employment, this woman may have had consistent coverage on her own, relevant to her unique health considerations.  This may have avoided the situation she encountered due to the hospital’s out-of-date records.

We need reform, but not the reform currently offered.  Regardless, we will never get the process correct until we break from the narrative that demands we accept that the road to peril started at the point and with the cause(s) most convenient to a preferred explanation.

Post script: For the purpose of this post, I’ve intentionally ignored the privacy and data management issues involved in a universal health care plan capable of solving this problem.