Sunday, August 28, 2011

Extreme Makeover Home Edition: the deaths in America of two young fathers

My wife likes to watch Extreme Makeover, Home Edition. Tonight's episode tells of Pennsylvania resident Trisha Urban.

In February 2009 Trisha was pregnant and her water broke. Before they left for the hospital her husband went to do some last minute farm chores and never came back.

He had died, age 30. It seemed odd that the show didn't say how, so I googled. The Reading Eagle had the immediate story of the death and the birth. But then this, a year later in the Allentown Morning Call: For one Valley family, reform's 'too late for us'

Trisha and Andrew Urban once counted themselves among the ''lucky ones'' -- the people covered by health insurance. In 2008, Trisha was well into her first pregnancy and Andrew had developed a serious heart condition. Doctor visits became routine.

But their luck turned in September 2008. Their health insurance company sent them a letter saying Andrew's full-time internship, part of getting his doctorate in psychology, was only part time. The company dropped them from the health plan.

The Urbans and the university wrote letters and argued the internship was full time and the insurance should be valid, Trisha said. But to no avail. When they tried to get insurance elsewhere, they were denied because of their pre-existing conditions.

Five months after losing their insurance, Andrew Urban died. That same day, his daughter, Cora Urban was born.

About a month later, with mounting debt and mourning the loss of her husband, Trisha received another letter from her health insurance company: She and her late husband had been reinstated on the plan.

''Unfortunately, the health care reform is too late for us,'' said Urban, 33, of Tilden Township.

So what the show didn't say is that this young father had a serious heart condition, was cut off from care by the American healthcare system, and died from the condition on the day his daughter was born.

My mind shot back to late 2008, a year after my illness, when I had just begun my interest in healthcare. I'd been reading Tom Daschle's powerful, informative book Critical, and blogging about it. He relates how President after President since Roosevelt had tried to provide healthcare for all (which every developed nation has, except ours), and time after time, one interest or another had blocked the change. As I read and blogged, the Urbans had just been cut off.

And my mind shot next to another academic who had no health insurance, so his access too was denied until for him it was too late: Fred Holliday, husband of my friend Regina, the amazing mural painter, of He died a few months after Urban.

I was raised being taught that America is the land of opportunity, but I mourn that these two young fathers' deaths involved something else distinctly American: denying healthcare to people who need it. It clashes loudly with "land of opportunity."

Today America's health reform bill (Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act) has not yet been fully executed - tens of millions still don't have coverage - but the law is passed and the wheels are turning. I'm so glad this administration got the job done: Thanks to the President, and thanks to every legislator, and hard-working aide and advocate, who took America where it has never been before: Extreme Makeover, Health Edition.

I'm posting this on my old personal blog, where I wrote about health issues before I went into business. This topic isn't specific to patient engagement - except that it frustrates patients who do want to be responsible for themselves and access the care they need.