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Columnist Marie McCourt: Many would benefit from Medicare for All 

  • Marie McCourt, of Granby, is a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 2nd Hampshire District. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO



Monday, August 20, 2018

A few months ago, I had to take the day off from work. My insurance company had refused to refill my insulin prescription, and I had a mountain of red tape to work through.

Due to a change in company policy, pre-authorization was now required. If I could use a less expensive form of insulin, I was told during one of my multiple phone calls with the insurance company, I could have my prescription filled immediately. Otherwise, I had to work with my diabetes specialist to get a pre-authorization ... and experience told me that this can be a long process which can often take up to a month for other items.

This is American health care in the 21st century, a confusing system in which profit takes priority over patients. The average American physician spends time worth more than $80,000 a year interacting with insurance plans and at least 20 hours a week dealing with pre-authorizations. Instead of providing health care, doctors spend time justifying their decisions to health insurance companies who are more interested in holding down their costs than ensuring our health.

Insurance problems aren’t new for me. I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was 7 years old. My mother often had to choose between providing food and insulin for me when my father died four years later.

My health situation took a turn for the worse when I was 20 years old and living on my own. It was the early 1990s. I was working over 40 hours a week without insurance. Too often I had to choose rent and utilities over insulin or food. There was no Affordable Care Act. I had no insurance, and no access to it, since I was diabetic.

I had to move back home, and quit my job — I was too sick, with my blood sugar out of control. Doctors gave me a 20 percent chance of survival. My mother bought me a cemetery plot.

The Massachusetts Health Connector, which began in 2007, would have covered my insulin, but in the 1990s, I was still one of the more than half a million Massachusetts citizens without health insurance. When my husband and I married in 1995, he got insurance from a job, but there was a one-year waiting period for the coverage of pre-existing conditions for me. Diabetes and, as I later learned, pregnancy would not be covered for a while.

In 2007, the Health Connector, and a few years later, the Affordable Care Act, increased the number of people with health insurance. If I were a 7-year-old diabetic today, my mother would not have to choose between food and insulin. Ninety-nine percent of children under age 19 in Massachusetts now have health insurance. As a 20-year-old, I would have been covered by insurance and not have ended up fighting for my life because I couldn’t afford enough insulin. It wasn’t until 2006 that I finally had affordable, reliable insurance.

Even with decent coverage, American health care is still a mess. With the help of my local pharmacist and my doctor, my insulin prescription was eventually filled, but the number of work hours wasted was unnecessary.

Thankfully, I work a job that allows me to take a day off, but my health wasn’t better for taking a day off from work to spend it on the phone. My doctor’s other patients weren’t better off for her time spent arguing with the insurance company on my behalf. My pharmacist certainly had other work to do. My employer would have preferred that I be at work.

Why should we have had to fight for a prescription in the first place — and especially for a lifelong, chronic condition for which the prescription is what keeps me alive? If we were to design a health care system from scratch, would it be the one we have now?

We have the most expensive health care system and worst health outcomes in the developed world. Multipayer health insurance, a bureaucratic nightmare that diverts money from health care to the private companies that ration it, is the cause.

That’s why I support Medicare for All. Medicare has better outcomes for patients. It’s most efficient and less expensive because it eliminates useless bureaucracy and frees up doctors and nurses to actually perform health care.

Medicare for All would guarantee universal health care, simplify coverage for employers, make entrepreneurship more affordable, and best of all, improve the health of millions of Americans.

Marie McCourt, of Granby, is a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 2nd Hampshire District.