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Broken healthcare and broken lives

A 12-year-old boy suffering from a stroke makes a compelling case for change, says one pediatrician.

September 13, 2009|Alex Blum | Alex Blum trained in pediatric medicine at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA. He is now an Evidence and Health Policy Fellow at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He sits on the board of directors of the National Physicians Alliance and is the national field director for Doctors for America.

Along with every other pediatrician I know, I have seen far too often the unconscionable consequences of children not having healthcare coverage. One case still haunts me.

In the middle of one night during my training at a county hospital outside of Los Angeles, a 12-year-old boy arrived at the emergency room. He was having a seizure. From a brain scan, we made the terrible diagnosis: He had suffered a massive stroke. At best, he would be severely disabled for the rest of his life.

When I sat down with his mother to tell her the bad news, she told me that he had been a happy, healthy child through most of grade school. But there had been one other trip to the hospital. When he was 7, he'd had a stroke from which he recovered quickly and completely. His mother had been instructed to take him to a specialist to find out what was wrong so he would not have another stroke. But she was the family's sole provider and simply could not afford the expensive out-of-pocket bills.

At first I was shocked and angry to learn she ignored a physician's advice that could have prevented this tragedy. I quickly realized, though, that the true culprit was our broken healthcare system. Because this system denies millions of Americans access to care, my patient's mother was forced to take a gamble on her child's health. The result was a debilitating stroke that should have been prevented.

Until the system changes, health catastrophes like this will continue to be commonplace in America. Until we reform the system, Americans will continue to be forced to choose between feeding their families and taking them to the doctor.

And it is not only the destitute who need change. In my clinic, I have quietly comforted countless parents who are jobless and struggling to pay hundreds of dollars in monthly COBRA payments. The reality for most Americans is that your insurance is only as secure as your job. And in this economy, that's not much comfort.

The plan that President Obama laid out to Congress on Wednesday would provide care for those who do not have a way to pay for healthcare. It would create security for those who now have health insurance, provide insurance for those who do not have it, and help bring down the ever-skyrocketing cost of care. His plan would ensure that people like my patient would get the care they need.

Now is the time for Congress to move beyond petty politics and reform our healthcare system. If you don't think the system is broken, ask your doctor. We see the gaps and inequities every day in a system that all too often puts every other interest ahead of patient care. That is why I and hundreds of thousands of my fellow physicians will fight hard to get healthcare reform passed this year. Join us.

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