My response to Dr. Jones and the Facebook letter

For roughly a week or so, there has been a letter floating about Facebook that has been attributed to Dr. Starner Jones.  Dr. Jones’ letter to the editor has been verified by Snopes.  I don’t want to get into the more racial overtones of the letter (and let’s face it, aside from the gold tooth remark, it could apply to any group) and the discussion of shoes or tattoos as they could have been gifted or done before a change in economic status.

I’ve long held that health care reform is critical for the long-term economic recovery of this country. I spend $500 month on health insurance for me. Insurance companies are the nightmare that created the health care crisis. I spent several weeks trying to get my insurance company not to pay for a bill regarding a metal plate that was not put into my ankle: the surgeon, hospital and (not done) x-ray on my ankle would show the lack of a metal plate. After approximately 10 hours, I “saved” my insurance company close to $1,000 for another individual’s error. I’m sure my rates will go up this year. Unlike car insurance, health insurance doesn’t reward people for “good behavior”.

Dr. Jones’ letter raised some issues that need to be discussed: maybe his patient in question could not purchase health insurance and was forced to rely on the system. In many states, individuals cannot purchase health insurance with a pre-existing condition. I am not going to defend smoking or drinking beer but let’s collectively look at some of the ways in which the insurance and medical communities can encourage (and reward) behaviors that would reduce the over burdened and costly medical system.

1)      I recently stopped taking my preventative migraine medication.  After going through a careful, detailed food journal, my doctor and I noticed that processed food and those that have a higher percentage of pesticides associated with them triggered migraines. My answer? I’ve gone green when it comes to food. I buy as much as I can from local farmers markets’, community supported agriculture for both produce and meat and eliminated as much “artificial” preservatives as possible. The result? I no longer need to take a prescription which my insurance pays the manufacturer $72.96 per month.  The project to untangle my migraines was started by me and my doctor.  Cost savings to my insurance company? $875.52 per year. Reward from my insurance? Zero. No, I’m not saying my insurance company should just write me a check, discount my policy or something LIKE that: what I am saying is that my insurance company was willing to go with the quick fix of handing me a pill instead of encouraging me to find alternative means (i.e., non-chemical) to resolve an issue. The out of pocket cost to me, to eat this way, is far more than the savings to my insurance company. But, in the long run? It’s much healthier for me.

2)      Participation in something like a CSA provides a fixed cost for food (you pay for a share). As part of developing a way to combat the growing obesity problem in the US, what about allowing CSA programs to accept SNAP vouchers nationwide at an incentive reimbursement rate? It would create a growth in local economies; provide fresh food to those in need (instead on relying on processed foods which only contribute to poor eating habits and the continuing cycle). Not only would people then have access to healthier foods which decreases the risks of many diseases co-morbid with obesity, it is a way of providing a first level change on the dietary habits.

3)      Eliminate pre-existing conditions. Period. Life is a pre-existing condition. I am fortunate enough to live in a state which as eliminated pre-existing conditions by law. Removing the pre-existing conditions, might allow individuals who are otherwise forced into Medicaid to be able to secure insurance through other avenues.

4)      With respect to Dr. Jones, life can be hard. I hold a graduate degree and have been unemployed for over a year. I’ve destroyed my savings account. I did not “reap what I sowed”: I became trapped in an economy and because of a pre-existing condition I am limited to one state where I can seek employment due to the ability to secure health insurance. It isn’t anybody’s “fault”. It is a systemic flaw that has recently impacted many Americans.

5)      There is an element of personal responsibility and budgeting. There are far too many pages on Facebook that start with the following “if you have to take a drug test for a job. . . “Instead of spreading hate: how about a shift in culture. Provide mandated nutrition courses for those on SNAP.  Provide mandated preventative health education courses for those on Medicaid. Both of these can improve the health and well being of those needing aid. If you can teach a course on budgeting, healthy eating, and job skills: DO IT. All of these contribute to both the growth of the economy and reducing the liability of an unhealthy nation. Contact a local house of worship, food pantry or homeless shelter and offer your services.

The letter written was sent to a Jackson, Mississippi paper. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation. In addition to raising valid points on how people do need to take ownership of their own bodies, perhaps Dr. Jones’ also should have addressed increasing economic opportunities, educational facilities and presented solutions. Instead, he provided an us versus them: and the sad reality? Many of us are a few months away from being judged as harshly as Dr. Jones’ patient by a health care provider. One group can’t fix the system: everybody needs to contribute.

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