How Would the Health Care Bill Have Changed the Lives of the “Critical Condition” Subjects?

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In 2008, POV aired Roger Weisberg‘s Critical Condition, which put a human face on the nation’s growing health care crisis by capturing the harrowing struggles of four critically ill Americans. Viewers were introduced to Joe, Karen, Hector and Carlos, and watched as they discovered that being uninsured could mean losing your job, health, home, savings, even your life.

With the passage of this week’s health care bill, we wondered how the reforms might have changed the lives of the Critical Condition characters if they had been in place before they got sick. Director Roger Weisberg sent us his thoughts on what might have been for Joe, Karen, Hector and Carlos.

Roger Weisberg: Here are some brief thoughts about what might have happened to the subjects of Critical Condition if the provisions of the bill that was signed into law [this week] were in effect when we were filming:

Critical Condition: Hector Cardenas

Hector may not have opted to have his leg amputated out of fear that his insurance was going to be terminated. Since he would have been able to keep his insurance and receive government subsidies to help pay the premium, he could have continued to see the doctor who believed that he could save Hector’s leg. He also would not have had to delay treatment for his diabetes, forego his blood pressure medication, or struggle for two years with an ill-fitting temporary prosthesis that was designed to last three months. Lastly, Hector may not have accumulated the medical debt that caused him to lose his home and move into a single room in a downtown motel.

Critical Condition: Karen Dove

Karen would not have lost her health insurance when she was no longer able to work. She would either have qualified for Medicaid, which was expanded under the new bill, or she would have been able to keep her old insurance or shop for a new policy at a local “exchange.” As a result, Karen would not have delayed seeking treatment for her abdominal pain and would have been able to see an oncologist sooner. It’s possible that her ovarian cancer would have been detected and treated sooner, giving her a much better prognosis than she ultimately received when she learned that her cancer had advanced to stage 3C, which is almost always fatal. Karen and Ronnie would not have had the added burden of dealing with overwhelming medical debt and harassing calls for bill collectors at the same time that Karen was trying to fight a devastating disease. And, after Karen’s death, Ronnie may not have lost his home and been forced to move in with one of his daughters.

Joe and Dale

Joe would not have lost his insurance because he got sick and couldn’t work for a few months. He would either have qualified for the expanded Medicaid benefits under the new bill, or he would have received government subsidies to keep his old insurance policy or shop for a new one. He would have been able to afford the medications he needed to keep his liver disease and diabetes under control, and consequently, could have avoided several unnecessary hospitalizations. With access to primary preventive care, Joe’s condition would not have deteriorated so quickly. Joe’s wife, Dale, believes that Joe would be alive today if he had not lost his insurance.

Critical Condition: Carlos Benitez

Carlos would probably have received health insurance from his job as a chef in a French restaurant. His employer, a small business, would have received tax credits to help cover the cost of his insurance. As a result, Carlos would not have had to wait 15 years to get the surgery he needed to correct his back deformity. His pain would have been relieved much sooner, and his surgery would not have been so risky. He would not have needed to self-medicate with over-the-counter pain medication and would not have suffered from the internal bleeding that almost killed him. Lastly, he would not have had to travel to Mexico to get the pain medication or surgery he needed. In Critical Condition, as a result of the intervention of a kind doctor, Carlos became a rare exception and received an expensive operation that is typically available only to well-insured patients. With the new health care reform bill in place, Carlos and over 30 million Americans would become insured, opening the doors to medical treatment that had previously been out of reach.

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