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Proud of the good doc

Just a thought

February 24, 2010
Maybe I'm a little old-fashioned, but I like doing business with nice people, people I actually like.

I somehow feel kind of out-of-place in the big stores where I don't know anyone and they don't seem to really want to get to know me. Mostly, I think they just want my money. So, if I need a package of screws, I would probably go to Alstott's Hardware instead of Walmart. Or if I need to get a prescription filled, I'd feel more comfortable at Butt Drugs than any of the chain stores. And I feel the same way about doctors.

For years, Dr. Bruce Burton of Corydon has tended to my aches, pains and illnesses. I wouldn't consider going elsewhere. He's one of those people who, once you get to know them, you trust them. He just has goodness written all over him.

Now, I have to add a huge measure of respect to those accolades. I was in his office about three months ago for treatment of a bronchitis problem, and we talked for quite a while about health insurance reform. After feeling each other out about the issue, we discovered we're on the same page. We both see the downside of status quo — how people all over the country are losing everything they have because of health problems — and how many politicians and others just don't care.

In America, health care is about making money. Insurance is about making money. Health insurance is about making gobs of money. But it's shocking how many people don't get good health care because they don't have sufficient coverage or any coverage at all, often through no fault of their own, whether from a job loss or an employer who doesn't offer health insurance as millions of part-time workers are now experiencing. And now, many companies are using mostly part-time workers in an effort to increase their bottom lines.

For generations, the majority of people in America have gotten their health insurance through their workplace. This has been the mode of operation for as long as I can remember, and it worked well for a long time. Health insurance was considered a fringe benefit, something to attract good employees and enable companies to keep them. But therein lies most of the problem. Many companies began reneging on their end of the bargain. Many no longer value good employees or longevity or dependability. Those things costs money. However, part-time workers are plentiful, hungry and can be underpaid and worked at the company's convenience. And there's little in the way of fringe benefits, including health insurance. Cobra plans and individual policies are so expensive that those out of work or part-time workers can't afford them, so they remain uninsured and at the mercy of a system that robs them of their dignity, pride and even their health. And, let's not forget, many are even losing their homes due to medical bills that they can't pay and many may never have affordable health insurance again due to a pre-existing medical condition. Insurance companies have been successfully milking that cow for years.

Now, I understand that there are some who are yelling their heads off about "government-controlled health care" and "socialism" and "Obamacare" in an effort to keep reform from happening. When I asked a self-proclaimed tea party activist recently what would be his plan for the 45 million people who are uninsured if health care reform fails in this country, his answer was that they could just die, that they should have planned better and shouldn't expect the American taxpayers to pay their way for them.

It's obvious that big insurance companies have found a mouthpiece in the Republican party and that the Republican party has found a mouthpiece in the ignorant and hateful of our population. The Republicans are set on stopping any reform in its tracks, not because reform is wrong, but because it will hurt their chances of being re-elected if it's right. And some Democrats are riding the fence on the issue, as well. Large campaign contributions can buy a politician in a heartbeat.

And some insurance companies have no shame. In the middle of all this, Anthem Insurance notified its customers in California that they would see an almost 40-percent increase in their premiums. Meanwhile, WellPoint, the parent company of Anthem, posted a $4.7 billion profit in the last year, and more than $2 billion of that was in the last three months. Yeah, WellPoint, the company that employs Sen. Evan Bayh's wife.

There was also a report out last week that the five biggest health insurance companies covered 2.7 million fewer people last year but earned 56 percent more in profits. The five companies — WellPoint, UnitedHealth Group, Cigna Corp., Aetna Inc. and Humana — racked up combined profits of $12.2 billion last year. And Humana just announced that it was laying off more than 700 employees in Louisville alone.

A couple of weeks after my visit to Dr. Burton, he wrote a letter to the editor that was published in The Corydon Democrat. He complimented Baron Hill on his vote in favor of health insurance reform. A few days ago, he wrote a letter to The Courier-Journal and told a story about a woman who came to him in severe pain. He encouraged her to go to the Community Health Clinic because she had no insurance, but they were closed. He then had to send her to the hospital where surgery will probably send her into bankruptcy.

Burton told of another woman who came to him that same day. She had lost her job and health insurance. She was pregnant and her doctor, who had followed her pregnancy until she lost her insurance, had dumped her, and she needed another doctor. Shortly after taking their newborn home, she and her husband went bankrupt.

"This is not an unusual day in my life of family medicine," Burton wrote. "Don't let the powers that be convince you that we don't need drastic health insurance reform."

As far as I know, Burton is the only local doctor who has had guts enough to make a stand, to get on a public soapbox and put helping his patients above all else. He sees the hurt, scared faces of the uninsured every day, and he's doing all he can to help. And I'm immensely proud that he's my doctor.

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