Meet Maggie: Clear eyes. Full heart. And a walking medical time bomb

By Frank Erickson, MD, of Pendleton, Oregon. Frank is a Radiologist from Pendleton, who toured with the Mad As Hell Doctors in 2011 through eastern Oregon. He has served as a Radiation Safety Officer in the Navy and practiced as a Board Certified Diagnostic Radiologist since 1986. His interests are focused on maximizing health care outcomes for his patients who he now sees as all of us through his participation in Physicians for a National Health Program and Health Care for All Oregon.

In the run-up to garnering support for HB 2922, the universal coverage health care reform bill for Oregon this session, I sponsored a public showing of The Healthcare Movie in Pendleton last month. One of the attendees told me her personal story of how the current health care arrangement is endangering her life. A woman, call her Maggie - looked to be in her mid-40's with medium build. She was ambulatory, had clear speech and full understanding of her condition, which made hearing about it all the worse.

Maggie described having hypertension and a thyroid condition that require meds which she has not been able to take for the last five months, since none of the local primary care providers will take her as a patient and refill her prescriptions. The free clinic did not help. She asked if I knew of anyone who might help her, so I named local health care providers I knew personally who I thought were qualified to take her on. Maggie had tried each of their offices - one of them attended her church.

One by one she said she had been turned down - not accepting new patients or some other excuse due to inability to pay/no insurance aside from Medicaid. She said her blood pressure was 182 over 119, taken at the fire station (free), and she was afraid of having a stroke. (These numbers place her in the Hypertensive Crisis range.) In a whisper, she told me her income – totally inadequate for the roughly $400 monthly prescription bill (she has additional conditions which complicate her prescriptions). She is aware of and has taken all the usual non-prescription precautions, like lowering her salt intake. She takes her health seriously; she is personally responsible; she simply cannot afford to get what she needs and has no means to relocate to another area where someone might accept her as a patient.

Maggie feels trapped. Her next stop may be the Emergency Room. She is a walking medical time bomb, and she knows it. There was fear in her eyes. I have never more acutely felt the need for a basic universal health care system than when I was hearing her story. This case in particular, and all the other medical horror stories and bankruptcies due to medical incidents that have become common, keep pegging my frustation meter. We simply must change our current pay-or-die non-system as soon as possible. We are losing and harming people like Maggie every day while the debate goes on.

Call your legislators. Support HB 2922 and

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