Health bill win for economy, too

> I will never forget his face.

It was more than 25 years ago, when I was just starting my career as a physician, but it continues to haunt me to this day.

I had just explained to him, as gently as I could, that his cough and his fatigue were due to a can­cer growing in his lungs. The treatment would be difficult, but there was a good chance that the cancer could be stopped in its tracks.

It was then that he con­fided that he didn’t have medical insurance. As the hard-working owner of a local and popular small business, he had been un­able to find affordable insurance for him and his family.

The financial implications of the news I had just delivered were not lost on him. "I’m not going to do it," he said. And he went on to explain how he couldn’t bear to leave his family in financial ruins if the treatment didn’t work.

There was nothing I could say or do to convince him otherwise. It felt like a colossal failure on so many levels. And it was.

I have thought of him often during the recent debates about reauthorizing the New Hamp­shire Health Protection Program, and what would have happened if he’d had this safety net that has recently brought affordable health coverage to 47,000 people in New Hampshire who would otherwise have gone without.

Some have raised concerns that having such coverage will incentivize people to work less in order to qualify. That’s not the kind of person who has typically come seeking my help and that of my colleagues.

It’s the thousands of patients I have cared for and spoken to whose hospitalization might have been avoided if they had preven­tative primary care, or whose long and difficult treatments might have been shortened or avoided altogether if they had sought attention earlier.

It’s the friends and neighbors and fellow parishioners, the cashier at the corner store or the waitress at our favorite restaurant trying to make ends meet, who had to make the choice between costly medications and putting food on the table.

It’s the people who were too proud or too embarrassed to seek help or charity care when they found themselves in need, who are now disabled due to the heart disease that came from their unrecog­nized or uncontrolled diabetes or the stroke that left them para­lyzed when their blood pressure wasn’t properly controlled.

The incredible thing about the bill that is now before the New Hampshire House is that it is designed so that there will be no new taxes. How is this possible? It’s a combination of factors.

There are federal dollars that will come back to New Hamp­shire, so we are not "donating" our federal taxes to other states. Those taxes come from the pre­miums paid for the insurance and contributions from hospitals and insurers who recognize that ac­cess to care will save the kinds of avoidable costs that come from early diagnosis and treatment.

And those are just the costs around the health care itself. A healthier population means a better economy. Able-bodied workers are good for business and businesses – they’re more productive and better employees. When people are not forced to pay for costly treatment on the far end of health care, they have more income to spend on feeding the engine of our economy. And healthier parents mean healthier kids – the kids who are the future workers and consumers.

Which brings me to one more very important thing that is added by the NHHPP, and that’s coverage for substance misuse treatment.

Health care in this country has always covered treatment for illnesses that arise from the use of tobacco or alcohol, but it is only recently that we have begun to fully understand drug addic­tion – to understand that it is a brain disease and not a choice. To recognize that it strikes every community and every age group.

The conversations I have had with distraught parents and patients who are struggling to find a way out of this horrible enslavement in the absence of health coverage is heartbreaking. And the scourge of this disease is eating away at the fabric of our communities.

Which brings me to my last point. Living here for nearly 30 years, I have seen what it means to be part of the New Hampshire community. The neighbors who watch out for each other, the people who take time out of their busy lives to help those in need, the numerous people who take on local, state and regional responsi­bilities to make New Hampshire the amazing place that it is.

For many, having access to affordable health care is the dif­ference between financial stabil­ity and financial ruin, between a good quality of life and suffering, or even between life and death. When understood on these terms, how can we say no?

Dr. Stephanie Wolf-Rosenblum is vice presi­dent of development and external affairs at Southern New Hampshire Health System.