As we wait to see whether Harry Reid can deliver on his promise to get a public option into healthcare reform legislation, I’m wondering why more Americans aren’t clamoring for the exact same health security I enjoy.
I’m not 65, and I’m not struggling beneath the poverty line. But I do qualify for a little-known federal insurance program that ensures I get the treatment I need. This program has saved the lives of more than a million Americans—including my father’s and my own.
A year ago, I learned I’d inherited the same cystic kidney disease that nearly killed my father in 1972. Back then, Wayne Nix was a young schoolteacher with a wife and two little girls to support, and after his diagnosis, he had two choices facing him: death or financial ruin.
Dialysis and transplantation were established, successful treatments, but they were expensive, and all of the private insurance companies back then refused to cover patients like my dad.
Luckily for my family, activists successfully lobbied Congress to create the Medicare End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Program.
Republicans and Democrats voted in support of this legislation, and President Richard Nixon signed it into law in 1973. My dad was among the first beneficiaries of the program, which ensured that kidney patients would get access to life-saving dialysis and transplant treatments, regardless of age or income. The program covered my dad’s dialysis costs for seventeen years, and his transplant in 1991.
Today, as I watch the endless cable news loops highlighting the disheartening acrimony and willful misinformation pervading our healthcare debate, I’m amazed that renal disease was ever added to the Medicare program. That it enjoyed such strong bipartisan support in the seventies seems impossible now. But, back then, Congress believed covering kidney patients was just a stop-gap to tide them over until universal healthcare covered everyone. Even Richard Nixon was on board with the idea of a national health insurance plan.
Unfortunately, as we all know, that never happened. (more…)