Why “The Impossible” makes me think about healthcare

I went to see the movie The Impossible the other day and have since been thinking about how it relates to our situation here in Missouri.  The film is based on the true story of a family vacationing at a beachfront resort in Thailand in December 2004, when the tsunami sweeps them away from each other and into the maelstrom. The film recreates the struggle of the injured mother Maria, and her 10-year-old son Lucas as they seek medical care and help in a devastated country, not knowing where they are or the language of those around them.   And then there is the father, Henry, searching for his wife and son, leaving the 5- and 7-year-old boys, Simon and Tomas, with strangers as they are moved away from the danger zone.

As the 2013 Missouri legislative session is set to begin, we have had warnings – warnings of a tsunami of bad legislation and of our inability to communicate with our legislators.

Our senators are proposing that we join Kansas in the race to the bottom.  If Kansas can do it, we must do it.   Kansas has a zero tax rate for small businesses.  “What’s our plan?” asks the little girl in an ad running in Kansas City.   Our plan is to mimic Kansas, which now has an $800 million shortfall in its budget next year, and create our very own revenue reduction by halving our corporate tax rate.  I can’t help but see the image of Maria and Lucas being tossed to the ocean floor and struggling to come up for air as I read about this tax plan.  Even as our schools, our bridges and infrastructure crumble in the storm, we want to reduce revenues.

And as we struggle to come out of the muck, let’s make matters even worse by reducing the individual tax rate and increasing the sales tax to make it even more difficult to buy the goods and items we need.

While families struggle to pay for clothes and other goods, our legislators would prevent 260,000 uninsured Missourians from receiving benefits under an expanded Medicaid program as called for in Obamacare. They ignore the studies such as the one from the University of Missouri, showing that 24,000 new jobs would be created. They ignore reports that the savings from other parts of the program, plus the expected new state revenue, would exceed the costs to the state’s general revenue fund.  They ignore the results of a poll conducted by the Missouri Foundation for Health, which finds that 52 percent of Missourians agree that Medicaid should be expanded, and that a majority of us believe the state government bears a responsibility for ensuring access to affordable health care and should act in the legislative session, even if it requires raising taxes. Our communication problems resemble those of Maria and Lucas – our legislators are speaking Thai, while we remain confused and bewildered.

Like the overcrowded, understaffed facilities in The Impossible, our rural clinics and hospitals serve a population away from the busy urban centers.  Our medical facilities are required to give emergency care to all, and our hospitals receive funds to help pay for the care of patients without insurance.   Under Obamacare, it is assumed that there will be fewer uninsured patients due to Medicaid Expansion, and funding for unreimbursed care will be severely reduced. If we do not expand Medicaid, our hospitals, and particularly those in rural areas, will be a risk. and some may have to close their doors.

Jobs created under Medicaid Expansion would include more health care workers – nurses, pharmacists and others. One of the most wrenching scenes in The Impossible is watching Maria being dragged and carried and then cared for by untrained villagers until she could be transported to a rural hospital.  The hospital was, of course, understaffed because of the emergency, and Maria, a physician herself, sent her son searching for antibiotics to prevent infections from her open wounds. I thought later about Maria, wondering what would have happened to her if she was not a wealthy physician, but if she was poor, with a part time job, and living in Missouri. If she was declared disabled because of her wounds, to receive Medicaid without the expansion, she would be unable to go back to work; she would earn too much to qualify.

Several of our legislators have been quoted as saying that expanding Medicaid is the wrong thing to do, that we would be helping able-bodied Missourians at the expense of the rest of us. They maintain the myth that those on Medicaid live on welfare, even though those who would be helped are able-bodied; they are the working poor. Our legislators, like a character in The Impossible who refuses to loan his phone to Henry to call his family in England, seem to have no feeling for those in desperate need.

Our legislators need to learn as Lucas did, Maria’s 10 year old, that empathy and helping others is what makes us truly human.  In the midst of the chaos Lucas rescues a toddler from a tree, carries him to safety and takes pride and pleasure in seeing the boy reunited with his father.  And like Henry, Maria’s husband, after we stop crying we need to struggle against our tsunami and do everything we can to prevent the destruction from the storm and create a prosperous, healthy Missouri where 7 year olds like  Tomas and 5 year old Simon can look forward to a brighter future.