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May I Say: Band-Aids won't fix health crisis

Each person reading this probably knows a few people who don't have health insurance.

The cost of medical benefits keeps chomping paychecks locally, regionally, nationally. At this rate, health coverage may become the new currency and mothers will deliver children in drive-through maternity wards.

I started counting it as a crisis after I heard the second story about people ditching medical coverage so they'll have enough money to eat. Evidence of one exists in and around River Falls, too.

The one-year-old free medical clinic serves 25 people a week on the one night it's open. Sweeping change to the state's insurance plan dramatically affected UW-River Falls employees last year. The city's insurance also increased again.

Nobody likes hearing those dreaded words, "We're changing plans." Everyone knows by now: That means a five-pound, two-inch-thick guide with pages of mind-numbing legal, insurance and medical jargon all jumbled together.

When I can avoid feeling overwhelmed by it all, I realize what an impossible mix of factors actually contribute to the problem. Then I wonder what I can do.

Pharmaceutical companies boldly tell America how much better they should feel -- on every level. This topic begs volumes, but simply put: I trust nature and a family physician more than drug companies and their obnoxious advertising.

Education helps me understand. For example, I've learned that some hospitals are for profit and some are not. Some serve anyone who shows up and some don't.

A longtime nurse once told me that doctors err to the side of caution, sometimes running every test and analysis possible, mostly to protect themselves from lawsuits. The cost of malpractice insurance is exorbitant, and it trickles down.

How much less could care cost without that overhead? If it came with a deep discount on care, patients would line up to sign a release waiver on their way in.

Raised in a time when we occasionally "put some butter on it" and kept going, I sometimes feel we're becoming a nation of hypersensitive hypochondriacs unable to cope with the slightest amount of discomfort or unhappiness.

Sometimes it IS just gas or moodiness, both of which pass without a doctor's care.

Everyone can live by their own standard, but insurance companies are slowly forcing us to visit the doctor less and save more money for when we do.

Some relief, albeit confusing, comes from Medicaid and Medicare for seniors and from state-funded programs for most children. That's good.

What's not so good: Some working people who pay the taxes to fund those programs, can't afford coverage for themselves.

Insurance companies are for-profit businesses taking a great big complicated gamble. They're betting we'll pay more in premiums over the life of a policy than they'll pay for our medical expenses.

It seems like that bet isn't as safe as it used to be, so insurance companies do whatever they can to survive -- including slash benefits.

Businesses exist to make money, but it's time for the profit players to find and kill the greed, fraud and apathy that fuels this blazing crisis. Equally, people should take better care of themselves in an effort not to make the problem worse.

Representatives from the different segments of our health-care industry, along with real people, could come together and communicate, even brainstorm. Not just once to say they tried but repeatedly until they identify feasible solutions.

Are industry standards and consistency too much for the consumers to ask?

Do people ask questions about their care plans and treatment options?

Do we settle for generic and wait out the common cold?

I don't suggest anyone not go to the doctor if necessary. The trickiest part seems to be defining exactly what necessary means.

I find it hysterically ironic that Wal-Mart, a retailer, has been the only organization to impact the health-care crisis nationwide with its $4 generic prescription, or so I hear. The company makes a sure bet: People will come for the cheap meds and also pick up soda, chips, candy, ice cream, donuts, smokes, while they're there.

Personally, I ramped up water intake, exercise output and fresh foods. I'm no health nut, but I can think of better ways to spend money than on aches and pains.

When I'm sick, I find that nature usually runs its course without killing me and that my dad's words for sick, whiny kids ring true: "You'll either die or get better."

Semi-seriously, I tell myself that prayer and good practices are about the best health insurance going, and they're priced right, too. Meanwhile, I'll keep learning and try not to let the crisis keep me up at night.

I probably couldn't afford the health problems that would follow.

Reach Debbie Griffin at or 426-1048.