Terrance Heath

I Am Not A Burned Down House

Filed By Terrance Heath | September 29, 2010 12:30 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: burned down house, health insurance reform, Mike Huckabee, pre-existing conditions

I am not a burned down house. Like millions of Americans, I have a “pre-existing condition.” But I am not a “burned down house”, as Mike Huckabee and those who applauded his recent statement seem, to think.

When Republicans attack health care reform, Democrats like to counter by accusing Republicans of wanting to repeal a law that requires insurance companies to cover people with pre-existing conditions. According to Republican Presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, that’s exactly right. People with pre-existing conditions, he explains are like houses that have already burned down.

"It sounds so good, and it’s such a warm message to say we’re not gonna deny anyone from a preexisting condition," Huckabee explained at the Value Voters Summit today. "Look, I think that sounds terrific, but I want to ask you something from a common sense perspective. Suppose we applied that principle [to] our property insurance. And you can call your insurance agent and say, "I’d like to buy some insurance for my house." He’d say, "Tell me about your house." "Well sir, it burned down yesterday, but I’d like to insure it today." And he’ll say "I’m sorry, but we can’t insure it after it’s already burned." Well, no preexisting conditions."

As pre-existing conditions go, mine is not immediately life-threatening. But as is the case with millions of other Americans, my condition is not difficult to treat -- but it can be deadly if untreated.

I’ve written about it before, but I am one of about 25 million Americans who suffer from gastroesphophageal reflux disease (GERD).

With normal digestion, a circular band of muscle located between the esophagus and stomach widens to allow food to enter the stomach and then tightens.

But when this muscle, known as the lower esophageal sphincter, weakens or relaxes inappropriately, acidic digestive juices in the stomach can flow back up, or "reflux," into the esophagus. Unlike the stomach, the esophagus does not have a protective barrier against the acid.

As a result, reflux can cause irritation, inflammation and other damage to the esophagus that is often perceived as heartburn, an uncomfortable, burning sensation behind the breastbone.

It is far more than just heartburn. In my case, I was diagnosed after my husband noticed that as many as two or three nights per week, I was getting up at night and going to the bathroom to vomit. He urged me to see a doctor about it, and I did. (Don’t ask me why it didn’t occur to me to go to a doctor. I guess that’s an example of why married people live longer.) One barium swallow and upper GI endoscopy later, I was diagnosed with GERD due to a hiatal hernia.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve made what changes I can to reduce my symptoms. I’m not obese. I don’t smoke. I don’t drink, and I avoid spicy foods (which I never liked much anyway). I eat smaller meals, and stop when I start to feel full. And I cut out any snacks a few hours before bedtime.

I got my diagnosis, and a prescription for medicine to help because I had health insurance. And my case appears to be progressive. I tried over the counter medicines until they no longer worked, and have had to change prescriptions each time I’ve experienced "breakthrough symptoms" indicating that my medication was no longer doing the job. I can do that, because I have health insurance. Otherwise, my story could have been more like this guy’s.

Baking soda nearly killed an elderly man. He was using it to relieve the stomach pain caused by an ulcer, but went way overboard with the home remedy.

After slipping on a children's toy, the retired gentleman could not get back up. Paramedics transported him to Cooper Hospital in New Jersey. En route, they noticed that he was short of breath and picking at his side for no apparent reason.

In the emergency room, the patient was completely incoherent. He looked disheveled, underweight, and could not tell them what year it was.

...Once the patient was stable, the doctors questioned his niece. She had found several empty boxes of baking soda at his home and explained that her uncle, who lacked health insurance, had been using it to cope with severe indigestion.

With an understanding of what went wrong, the doctors gave the patient fluids and potassium, which invigorated his kidneys. Slowly, the problem fixed itself.

How I came to have GERD is due to a number of factors, including biological and structural factors. But I tend to think that, at least to some degree, I inherited it from my dad. (The video above suggests that it may be genetic in some people.) He very likely had GERD. As a child, I remember him drinking Alka-Seltzer and taking Tums just about every evening, after dinner. He didn’t get it treated, probably because he didn’t know he had anything more than heartburn. At the time, I don’t remember any talk of GERD let alone diagnoses, or medicines to treat.

My dad never knew his symptoms were related to anything more than heartburn, and probably never mentioned it to his doctors. The problem is that doctors can’t treat what they’re not told about. And left untreated, GERD can lead to esophageal cancer.

Over the long-term, uncontrolled GERD can cause worrisome complications. One is esophagitis, an inflammation and erosion of the esophagus resulting from stomach-acid damage. Another is esophageal stricture, in which scar tissue causes the esophagus to narrow.

In rare instances, a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus, which is marked by changes to cells lining the lower esophagus, can lead to cancer.

Statistics show that men are about twice as likely as women to develop esophagitis and nearly 10 times as likely to get Barrett’s esophagus. And whites are at greater risk for Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer than non-whites.

The reasons why some people with GERD develop esophageal cancer are still being researched, but some studies point to enzymes and others to genetics. But in one year (2008), some 16,000 people were diagnosed with it, and 14,000 of them died of it. In 2006, my dad died of it.

He wasn’t a burned down house, either. He was veteran of two wars -- Korea and Vietnam -- who save more than 20 years of military service two his country, raised three kids, went to work every day until his retirement, helped his adult children in countless ways, adored his grandchildren, loved and stayed faithful to the woman to whom he was married for more than 50 years, right up to his death. Neither are my mom and sister, both breast cancer survivors -- one who wants to be here for her four children, and one who wants to be here for her children and grandchildren. They aren’t burned down houses either.

I am not a burned down house. I’m a husband and father who wants to be here for my family, to kiss "owies," dry tears, help with homework, attend graduations and weddings, and someday spoil my grandchildren.

I am not a burned down house. Neither are the millions Americans with pre-existing conditions, whose stories are just like mine and family’s.

According to the American Heart Association, more than 81,000,000 Americans suffer from one or more forms of cardiovascular disease. According to the American Cancer Society, more than 11,000,000 people in America currently suffer from some form of cancer. According to the American Diabetes Association, 23.6 million Americans currently suffer from diabetes, and the Center for Disease Control has estimated as many as half of all Americans will suffer from the disease by the year 2050, thanks to our deplorable dietary habits. According to the National Parkinson’s Foundation, between 50,000 and 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s Disease are diagnosed in America each year. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, some 400,000 Americans currently suffer from MS.

That’s a pretty substantial portion of the population, with more being diagnosed with cardiovascular diseases, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s and MS every day.

All of them, every single one of them, are like a house that has already burned down, according to Mike Huckabee and the sick bastards who cheered his comments. All of them, every single one of them, are not worthy of health insurance because they had the misfortune of getting sick before they got insurance. All of them, every single one of them, therefore, are not worthy of health care in any real form, unless, of course, they are wealthy and able to afford the staggering cost of ill health in America.

All of them, in short, every single one of them, can basically just go die in Mike Huckabee’s world. They are not worthy of coverage, treatment or consideration. The five diseases I listed account for well over a third of the American population, and if Mike Huckabee or someone who agrees with him somehow becomes president someday, those millions of people should just dig their own graves and lie down in them.

Last year, I spent about seven posts exploring the morality of health care reform. And here Mike Huckabee sums the morality of the opposition to health care reform in just a few sentences. Those of us, those 81 million of us with pre-existing conditions, are not worthy of coverage, treatment, or consideration. It would be better, cheaper, and quicker to take us "out behind the barn" and shoot us.

What becomes of us if people who agree with Mike Huckabee take over congress? What happens to Americans who will benefit from the parts of health care reform that just went into effect?

As of today, insurance companies can no longer deny insurance to children with pre-existing conditions--the young people who are ill and need insurance the most. As many as 5 million children fall in this category.

As of today, insurance companies can no longer drop people from coverage when they get sick because they made clerical mistakes on their applications.

As of today, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to drop children from their parents’ health insurance plans after they reach 21 or graduate from college, unless they are offered coverage at work. About 1.6 million young adults between 21 and 26 will go onto their parents’ policies.

As of today, insurance companies will be prohibited from placing lifetime caps on health coverage.

As of today, insurance companies will be restricted in their use of annual limits on coverage and will be banned completely in 2014.

As of today, insurance companies are required to cover recommended preventive services with no out-of-pocket cost for patients and with preventive services exempt from deductibles.

As of today, employer-sponsored health plans can no longer establishing any eligibility rules for coverage that discriminate against lower- and middle-income employees.

On the right, the mantra is "repeal and replace," but Matt Yglesias paints a picture of what that will really look like.

To review: As of this week, insurers will be unable to refuse to do business with children. Insurers will also be unable to impose arbitrary lifetime caps on benefits. And insured parents will be able to keep adult children on their plans up to the age of 26. This is a downpayment on the eventual transition to a system in which nobody will be denied coverage on the basis of a pre-existing condition. Which is to say that the system of health insurance for people under the age of 65 will at last do what Medicare has done for seniors for decades--actually guarantee that if you get sick you won’t need to shoulder the entire financial burden yourself.

Existing insurance policies are supposed to do this, but not only do many people lack insurance, many who are insured find that when disaster strikes suddenly, the insurance vanishes. That’s a business model that’s made insurance executives loathed, but it’s inherent to the economic logic of the current system, a logic that the ACA will upend with its system of subsidies, regulations, and--yes--the dread individual mandate to make everyone buy health care.

The system is, however, under grave threat. It’s unlikely that a new congressional majority will literally repeal the law in one fell stroke. Their plan instead is to fatally wound it. The law is a fairly intricate quilt of popular ideas, and not-so-popular ideas that are necessary to make the popular ones work. By picking away at the unpopular planks in an unprincipled way while pretending not to realize the consequences of these actions, a GOP Congress could ensure that by the time the full ship launches in 2014 it won’t be very seaworthy. Then they can ride the ensuing backlash to victory and be in a position to finish off repeal.

Never mind that a majority of Americans oppose repealing health care reform, and those who wish it went further outnumber those who don’t by 2 to 1. What they replace it with, if anything, is anybody’s guess. But this summer the GOP presented a health care "reform" plan that ignores the uninsured and offers nothing for those with pre-existing conditions. No surprise that it was practically written by the insurance industry. No surprise that, in the world as Huckabee and his supporters think it should be, if I lose my job and/or lose my insurance I’m out of luck. In fact, I’m dead. And I should be.

After all, what do you do for a burned down house? Answer: Nothing. You knock down what’s left, bury the ashes and walk away.

What do you do for millions of burned down houses? Answer: Nothing. They’re not worth saving.

Correction. We’re not worth saving.


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I know you put up that clip because it showed Huck, but is Ed Schultz really always like that? Good God, tell him to get serious. I can see why Bob Somberly always calls him a "clown."

Yes, Ed is always that big of a dipshit. He's my least favorite talking head. Lizz Winstead is a regular guest on his show and when they were both at Netroots Nation I sent her a tweet that said, "I saw Ed, but now I'm looking for the intelligent commentator from his show."

She does a comedy bit.

Burned down house? This man can't even construct a decent metaphor. The human equivalent of a burned down house would be a corpse. So, no, you can't get health insurance for a dead person.

Sammy is so right!
A few years ago, I hit my version of menopause (being Intersexed makes things ‘interesting’) and with it, decreased Estrogen and increased Testosterone. This triggered tachycardia, I ended up being lucky. Sometimes, lucky is good enough.
I’m a ‘burned down house’.
My heart could go from 60 beats per minute to 300 at the drop of a hat. More than once I was taken to a hosptial in an ambulance. Once, the EMT said “we’re going to code this one”. Another time, it was 8 care givers in the emergency room and a preist hovering over me.
But, I’m lucky. I got a job at a place that CARES about its workforce. So I had full coverage insurance. Because of that, and my very first doctor that I saw here who really hooked me up with the very best physicians, my heart got fixed. Mind you when they fixed it, I did hit 286bpm and they were all 0.0 about it. But, its fixed and I am not a house, I’m a human.

The health care bill has individual mandate as well, something that massively harms people in addition to not having a set up regarding deductables, premium caps, and coverage minimums for people with pre-existing conditions. See, the main way that people with pre-existing conditions are pushed out isn't usually outright denial, but making outrageously high premiun rates combined with a refusal to cover anything related to the condition, which, they can still do, because the bill contains no premium caps and no mandatory minimum coverage for pre-existing conditions. Now, not only will I fall into the gap between those who qualify for medicaid and those who can recieve affordable insurance that actually covers my needs when I begin working, I will also be financially punished for not being able to have it. This bill does little to help and much to harm (considering the individual mandate). Fuck anyone who supports individual mandates. The idea that people don't have health care because they don't feel like it is absurd, irresponsible, and flat out deadly. This is the Reagan bill with a few ribbons on it, which is why most single payer health care advocate groups opposed this bill. It fucking sucks. It's not single payer, it is not even close. It is a terribly designed bill that will not only not help, but when its inevitable failure due to its suckiness happens it will be forever used as an excuse not to get real single payer.

Any health care plan was going to have an individual mandate. Single-payer is effectively a mandate to buy health insurance. In fact, that's the response to Huck's statement - if someone was already forced to buy house insurance before the fire then they wouldn't be bilking the insurance company like he says they will be (I'm guessing he knows that but just didn't want to tell his audience that).

We'll see about the price controls in the bill, which do exist. But we'll see if they survive a Republican Congress and if they actually get enforced.

No, that's not what single payer does, please look it up. "Medicare for all" is a traditional slogan that far better captures the idea. Individual mandate and single payer are mutually exclusive, not the same thing.

The analogy is wrong. As a former insurance coverage attorney, I note that there is a clear and obvious distinction between property insurance, which is designed to protect a property interest, and health insurance, which is designed to protect against medical expenses. It's true that when the value of the property is zero, then there is no property interest for which property insurance can insure. But medical insurance is not designed to insure a property interest. It is designed to insure against medical expenses. The fact that a condition is pre-existing has no relationship to the interest being insured, which is the medical expense burden.

Everyone wants "affordable" health insurance -- i.e. price caps! -- and mandated coverage of all (or moat) medical expenses. But no one is controlling the spiraling cost of health care.

So who pays the bills? Health insurance companies? When their expenses approach and exceed their income (premiums), they'll fold. The government has already mandated that.

And how do we control the cost of medical care? More price caps? And who decides what the price is going to be for new, often better, health care options?

Mandating health insurance coverage will increase the total premiums collected -- even if Uncle Sam has to pitch in (borrow money and subsidize millions of taxpayers) to make that happen.

Costs are still out of control.

Oh, I'm what's known as a "heavy feeder" myself. My medical bills far outstrip the premiums I pay. But I'm on Medicare, so you taxpayers are already stuck with me. ;-)

People who live in bigoted houses shouldn't throw shitty house burning metaphors.

Pre-existing conditions regulation was one of the most popular aspects of the health care bill.

Whether you're a burned-down house depends on how health insurance is really supposed to work. Most insurance is about diffusing RISK. You are not a risk; you are a liability.

The existence of health insurance has driven up the price of healthcare--in many ways, but in part because of the deep discounts insurance providers demand, raising the price for the uninsured.

If you want affordable healthcare, the appropriate thing to demand is AFFORDABLE HEALTHCARE. Health "insurance" is unfortunately part of the problem--not the solution.

You ARE a burned-down house, in the sense that what you're asking for is not about diffusion of risk, but diffusion of liability. And that requires you to win a very different argument than the one you've made here.

Except for those done in by a bus at a young and vibrant age, most of us will eventually develop a chronic illness. The moment it's diagnosed it becomes a pre-existing condition. Mr. Huckabee too, is likely to develop a pre-existing condition some day. The only way to deal with the problem is universal insurance. No one can be left out and no one can stay out.

I too suffer from a pre-existing condition. In my case, it's a form of arthiritis.

My medication is to be taken every two weeks. Without insurance the medication is $1800 a shot. However, through some kind of co-operation between insurance company and the manufacturer, if you have some kinds of insurance, you can get that shot for $5.00.

So, now wife and I have lost our jobs. In about 6 weeks, I'll no longer be able to walk up stairs. It will take me 2-3 hours to get out of bed.

I will be filing for Social Security Disability. A 2 year sojourn that will leave my family penniless.

So Mr. Huckabee, former preacher you claim to be, Jesus will judge your actions. I certainly hope you packed some asbestos underwear for the trip. Your going to be there a long time.