The kids and I have been talking a lot about food and health care lately. It’s kind of been a topic of curiosity since Luca was born. Corde wanted to know why babies are born in hospitals and it’s just gone on from there. She wants to know why everyone is supposed to have “check-ups” and what doctors really do to keep you healthy.
The more I thought about it, the more I understood where she was coming from. The whole system doesn’t make sense. Healthcare isn’t about keeping you healthy. It’s about dealing with what happens when you get sick and trying to stop that from happening. She’s heard me mention “sick care” from a couple Facebook posts and she seemed to think that was much better suited.
Thinking about it myself, it makes sense. Why do we have this obsession with doctors fixing everything? This has led to a number of problems that are really quite challenging today. One of those problems is the lack of proper health care for the poor. Because the medical industry is such a huge industry and it’s forced to keep marching forward which means everything has to cost more in order to pay for research and development. The poor just can’t afford those advances, especially when they’re unable to get health insurance. This means they often go without the care they need. In other words, a lot of people end up suffering because of the high cost of medical care, yet the medical industry makes a lot of money.
A few years back I used to work for a doctor’s office. It wasn’t a real doctor by some people’s standards. He was an eye doctor. His eye exams were on the expensive side. He didn’t want to take particular kinds of insurance because the pay outs weren’t good enough. He also ran a practice that drove me nuts. You see, there was this machine that took a picture of the retina, meaning a patient didn’t need a dilation. This is a preferable way to do it, sure, but most insurances didn’t cover it. It was $40 in addition to the eye exam. When I had mine done the tech didn’t even alert me to the extra cost. I didn’t know until afterwards, and by that time it was too late and I had to pay. When I started working for the office I found out exactly why. The doctor was having a competition. Whoever got the most Optomap patients would get a bonus at the end of the month. He did this because he would make nothing but profit on any Optomap scans beyond the first 20 every month. In other words, the more scans he did, the more money he made. It was really nothing but greed veiled in the appearance of caring about his patient’s health. In truth, I think he did care to some degree. He’s spend hours going over those images. I remember him pulling me into the office to show me something incredible he’d found. He was always wanting to show us the incredible details and I remember him telling me repeatedly that retinas were as unique as finger prints. He was always looking for any minuscule detail that would indicate something was wrong or needed to be watched. Then again, that could be that an eye doctor’s patients having eye problems isn’t good for the reputation. It’s better to have a reputation of giving the best eye care possible. Still, it just struck me that it all seemed about the bottom line. Let’s cram as many patients in as possible, make them get expensive procedures so the doctor can make a profit. He was always complaining about his “problem patients” when it seemed like the problem wasn’t the patients, it was the fact that they didn’t have money. He was always sugary sweet to those who came in looking like they had money to spend.
This doctor also had a problem doing the free eye exams offered by the company for the poor. He was supposed to pick one day a week where he’d do the exam, but he’d only offer one exam on that day at the least busy time possible. This meant we were booked for that program over a year in advance. We weren’t allowed to call and confirm the appointment, so over half of the appointments never showed up. Of course, the good doctor was happy about this because he didn’t really want to do the appointment anyway. He would always complain about “these people”. Little did he know that when I got the job I was one of “those people”. I was living in a shelter and had just gotten out on my own when I was transferred to his office.
That year we had a going away party for the store manager. Everyone was invited to his beautiful home. It was one of those white stone townhouses you see in Northeastern cities. There was a rooftop garden where we had our dinner on fine china, not on disposable dishes. In order to get to this rooftop garden we had to climb up all five stories of his house, seeing a massive television with theater surround sound and his kitchen that looked like something out of home and garden. This wasn’t a man who needed the money, nor was he a man in a difficult position to give to charity. A part of me was in awe at the beauty of it all. A part of me felt incredibly uncomfortable being the kind of person he detested, yet visiting his fancy home. Most of me was disgusted that a man with so much success was little more than greedy. He had the money to give back, but he just never cared to.
I might draw the line there if he was the only doctor I’d seen act that way, but he wasn’t. All the doctors offices that ran through the chain eyeglass retailer were much the same. They were all pushed to make profit their bottom line and they were truly quite successful. After having run several of their books it was disturbing to see how much profit they made by the end of every year. I felt positively ill knowing the way these people treated people like me.
I can’t say as all doctors are the same, but I know I’ve gotten that reaction from more than a few. I’ve been looked down on quite a bit because we’re on some kind of state health care. I’ve gotten the treatment of being shoved in and out because it didn’t meet the bottom line and I refused too many services. It’s amazing how some doctors can turn on you because you say no to vaccines or because you call them out on having outdated medical advice. Too often I’ve seen them try and play themselves off as being the authority in the situation and taking offense when I don’t let them tell me how to raise my children.
That’s not to say I haven’t had some really great doctors. Some of them have been fantastic and have treated me like everyone else no matter who I am. Corde’s dentist was great. The kids’ new pediatrician is wonderful, or has been thus far. It’s comforting to know that some medical professionals are really there for you.
However, the health care crisis in America isn’t because everyone doesn’t have health insurance. It’s because the healthcare industry has become increasingly about the bottom line. Doctors like the one I worked for are all too common. How much money can they squeeze out of the patient? Or they have a quota where they have so many of whatever to do during any given day. If the doctor I worked for got less than 20 Optomaps for three consecutive months he would have the system taken out of his office. Nurses have often told me that they’re required to give so many flu shots a day. This isn’t how the medical industry is supposed to be. Then there’s all the people who go to the doctor to be prescribed antibiotics over a cold or the flu, something antibiotics aren’t going to do anything for. This is a huge part of the reason antibiotic resistant bacteria are becoming so prevalent. Our bodies need to produce them so we can keep the natural balance of bacteria in our system to survive. They pass the genes on to other bacteria, and before long we’ve got a serious problem.
The funny thing is a lot of these health problems wouldn’t be health problems if the government would take steps to prevent them. For example, obesity is such a problem with families in poverty because of the way they have to eat. It’s eat an unhealthy diet or be hungry all the time. Smoking is a huge problem because it’s legal, and because it’s a known way to reduce stress. Well, when you’re living at the bottom of the barrel, it’s easy to get stressed out and need some relief. Smoking and drinking become really common. I mean, how else are these families going to deal with stress and depression? A lot of allergies and other health problems are suspected to be linked to the consumption of GMOs.
Let’s face it, the answer to the healthcare crisis isn’t the program Obama is suggesting. The more I read about it, the more I understand it’s the answer for middle class, not the poor. After all, you can be “too poor” by his plan to be required to have health insurance and from what I’ve seen the government isn’t looking for an option for us. My kids can all be covered for medical insurance by the government, but if I want insurance, I’m going to have to file for social security disability. While I’ve been told several times that I’d qualify because of my elbow injury, I don’t want to. It’s not a matter of pride. I just don’t want to be one more family accepting the handout of social security when we don’t absolutely need it. I’ve known far too many people who CAN work and just choose not to because they’ve found some way to get on disability. I know social security will have run dry by the time I hit the age of retirement, but I don’t want it to have run out before my parents retire. I also don’t want to be taking away from the disabled people who really do need the social security benefits to get by. That means I spend a lot of time praying I don’t get sick because I know I can’t afford the bills. It’s not a good way to live.
So how do I propose we fix it? Well, maybe we should start by looking to take care of our health. Doctors should be the place you go when you’re sick and need to be made well. It’s really sick care. However, caring for your health means taking steps to make sure your entire body gets what it needs to keep working properly. That means eating right, exercising, and taking care of the physical and mental needs of the body.
I can’t propose a solution for those who have enough money to make their own choices, but I can propose a solution for the people who use SNAP/food stamp benefits like me. It’ll be a huge inconvenience and make everyone’s lives harder, but I think it would be worth it to make people think about what they consume.
My suggestion? Limit what can be purchased with SNAP benefits even more. Don’t allow junk food, for starters. If a family wants cookies and candy they should make it themselves. It might make them stop and consider how much they want it if they consider the work involved, which will help with over-eating. Disallow soda to be bought on food stamps. Then there’s the one Oz and I don’t totally see eye-to-eye on, get rid of TV dinners from the menu. This would encourage families to actually pay attention to what goes into their bodies instead of just shoving something quick and easy in the microwave. I know this will suck for single moms and families with two working parents, but I know a lot of people who make all their meals for the week on Sunday and stick them in the refrigerator and freezer. It’s not easy, but can be done. Sure, all that planning ahead takes a lot of time and energy and can be kind of draining. I know, I used to cook just about everything from scratch if I could. It was exhausting. At the same time, I also had so much more energy to do it because I was eating better.
Then, to make the program actually work, double the amount of money allotted per person per meal. $40 per person per week would go a lot further. Plus, according to the USDA a family of my size that has a low budget for food should be spending in the ball park of $230 per week or nearly $1000 per month. We fall within the lower, “thrifty” category, but thrifty implies being able to make a dollar stretch by shopping sales and using coupons, something that we don’t have much luxury to do, at least with the coupons. Doubling the budget would allow us to buy a good deal of fresh fruits and vegetables, allowing for a more balanced diet.
Offer classes for families on food stamp budgets too. Teach them how to cook for their families in a healthy way. There are plenty of quick and easy recipes out there that are still healthy. Teaching families how to cook would allow them to improve the health of their own family because they’ll be in the habit of putting good foods on the table.
Health care should be about maintaining healthy practices, not towards putting your money into some doctor’s pocket. Doctors should be there when you need them, but they shouldn’t be the answer to everything. Instead we should be looking towards what’s really going to improve our health, the things we put in our bodies.
I’ve seen all too many documentaries lately that prove that what’s now known as S.A.D. (Standard American Diet) is causing problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal diseases, and even some cancers to become epidemic in this country. While food may not cure everything that ails you, there’s no reason not to let it cure what it can.