Health News Digest

February 25, 2013

Ubi Caritas Est Vera, Deus Ibi Est

Help and charity

By  Michael D. Shaw

The title of this piece refers to the first line of an ancient hymn: “Where true charity is, there is God.” Health care—from the earliest times—has been at the nexus of organized religion, charity, and the community. This would be codified by Constantine in 331 AD with his Christianizing of hospitals. In the 6th century, led by the Benedictines, Christian organizations were beginning to establish hospitals throughout Europe. This development would continue throughout the Middle Ages.

By the 15th century, secular and civic institutions would become involved in health care, but then—as now—charity (doing God’s work, if you will) remains a large part of the process. Indeed, given the ever-shrinking reimbursement schemes of the present day, charity is a more dominant factor than many people realize. As is readily apparent to the majority of providers, significant financial gain is a thing of the past. Thus, the desire to help people has once again—after more than 400 years—become the prime motivation for entering the field of health care.

For those whose charity leans more toward donating money, I would recommend consulting Charity Navigator, America’s leading independent charity evaluator. You might be surprised to see how poorly some of the big name health-related charities are rated. Likewise, you might get turned onto some very worthy outfits that could have escaped your notice.

What happens if we apply any conceivable definition of “charity” to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare)? We’ll let preventive and climacteric medicine specialist Elizabeth Lee Vliet, M.D. weigh in:

One by one, the political promises fall like dominoes. The very groups that strongly supported government control of health care are now some of the ones getting stung badly. The effects are like a swarm of killer bees suddenly descending on the unsuspecting, stinging everyone in sight.

To wit…

1.     Health insurance premiums, including Medicare supplement coverage, are rising for virtually everyone—and everyone must be covered. Of course, you can always opt-out and pay the fine.

2.     Many workers are being cut back to fewer than 30 hours per week, so that employers need not cover them.

3.     Seniors were flat-out lied to, when told that there would be no cutbacks in their medical care. Vliet notes that an 80-year-old patient informed her that his heart medicine was no longer covered, “because I am too old now.” Moreover, preventive services and cancer screenings for older patients, such as prostate and breast cancer checks, are being cut to pay for “free” birth control pills.

4.     Vliet reminds us of what she calls “The privacy sting.” As she puts it “Your electronic health record will be used to decide what treatments you will be allowed. The IRS will be collecting expanded personal information about your income, habits, and family to decide what to sting you on penalties.” So much for the HIPAA Privacy Rule.

But, let’s be charitable—and positive—and take a look at an exceptionally highly-rated outfit: The Children’s Tumor Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) medical foundation, dedicated to improving the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by the neurofibromatoses (NF).

Three types of NF have been identified…

NF1—Occurring in 1:3,000 births, characterized by multiple cafe-au-lait spots and neurofibromas on or under the skin. About 50% of people with NF also have learning disabilities.

NF2—Occurring in 1:25,000 births, characterized by multiple tumors on the cranial and spinal nerves, and by other lesions of the brain and spinal cord. Hearing loss beginning in the teens or early twenties is generally the first symptom.

Schwannomatosis—Rare form of NF that has only recently been recognized and appears to affect around 1:40,000 individuals. Features may vary greatly between patients.

Besides straight donations, the Foundation has four major fund-raising programs…

  • NF Walk
  • NF Endurance
  • Racing4Research
  • Cupid’s Undie Run

On February 9th, the Cupid’s Undie Run was staged in 17 cities across the US, and raised more than $1 million. Among the many sponsors was San Francisco-based event planner Bare Bachelor founded by Maureen Downey. As she told me…

Researchers have already pinpointed preventive measures and understand the gene mutations which means the next big step is finding more than a temporary treatment. And I want to be a part of that! The idea of us running in our underwear is a metaphor of being brave while we are vulnerable. Just as those who have been diagnosed with NF.

How interesting that we must rely more on charity in the wake of an expanding government role in health care.