A Siegel's father-in-Law in 2008

Siegel's father-in-law in 2008

My father-in-law has brain cancer. He is a good man. He is the type whose hands are (sadly too often) filled at the end of a stroll with trash he picked up on the way. He has helped others in need, whether friends (doing all too many renovation and repair projects) to strangers (a pencil portrait of my better 95+% as a child was someone-without-money’s payment for extensive dental work). He is a good man. And, the prognosis isn’t good.

Not surprisingly, my better 95+%, my mother-in-law, my other in-laws, their friends are not especially joyous about facing this.

Yet, they face it with a sort of calm that is rarely seem in America when a family faces a major medical crisis. To date, there has not been one iota of discussion about financial challenges. There is no stress of looking at check-book balances, no fearful whispers about mounting medical bills, no distress over potential financial bankruptcy, no extended phone calls with insurers battling to get a test covered or to see whether a physician in system. In fact, the only discussions of money have been comments about how ridiculously low the bills are and why it really isn’t worth the time to seek reimbursement for supplementary insurance programs.

In this stressful time, my father-in-law and my mother-in-law are absoutely free of financial tensions from medical costs.

Sadly, perhaps, for my children’s future, this isn’t due to great family wealth. (They are solidly middle class.) Nor have they unlocked the key to some super-secret executive-based insurance program.

The reason for calm is simple: my father-in-law is French.

It isn’t because that French people are inherently calm and reasonable people, shy and reticent to get into an argument. (Sigh, actually the reverse. Here’s a good cheat sheet to prepare for an argument.)

No, the absence of fiscal tension results from basic public policy: universal coverage.

As with all French residents, my in-laws have health-insurance. When necessary, they simply go to get taken care of. In this public-private system, they have costs to bear (such as that few Euros charge for visiting a doctor) for treatment but those costs will not overwhelm a family’s budget.

The French provide for universal coverage at a per capita cost far lower than America’s spotty and unequal medical system.

And, the French have much better health care results.

Considering my father-in-law’s situation has made me wonder: is one reason for those better results the lower tension due to the universal coverage?

Does universal coverage make it easier for my father-in-law and other ill people to focus their energy on getting better rather than pouring over (if Americans lucky enough to have it) health insurance paperwork?

Does the universal coverage and lack of financial pressure make it easier for my mother-in-law to focus on her husband’s health? And, does the near absence of insurance paperwork and bureaucracy make it less likely that she, herself, might get sick?

My blogging focus is on energy and environmental issues. Within that, I am intrigued (and frustrated) by our failures to analyze adequately costs and benefits. And, I am always searching for those win-win-win-win solution paths that address the complexity of the real world, identifying interactions and building on them. It seems that the ‘tension relief’ factor of (single payer, please…) universal coverage is absent from the US discussion. Tension Relief is, however, a factor worthy of note and consideration.

As a note, this is not a call for sympathy about my father-in-law. I hope, for his grandchildren, that he beats medical odds for a long time to come. When he does die, whether soon or many years from now, the world will be a lesser place. As written above, he is a good man who makes the world better through his actions. But, by his own words, he has had a good, long, and full life. He has seen all his children succeed beyond his dreams, he has seen them all married, and had the chance to play with his grandchildren. And, he lives in a system that allows him to face his medical challenges without fear for his, his wife’s, or his children’s financial futures.