Meet Gunner Hawkins. Gunner loves Disney cartoons. He loves to be read to, so long as there are pictures. Gunner loves his rock ‘n’ roll bunny. He has a Facebook page. And 6-month-old Gunner is loved very much by two caring parents, Kristan and Jonathan. In March of 2009, Gunner was diagnosed with the deadly genetic disease, cystic fibrosis (CF), just two months after being born.
Gunner’s story is not unique. 1 in 4,000 American children are born with cystic fibrosis. What makes Gunner unique is that his parents have been able to articulate in a very special way why President Obama’s health care plan would hurt baby Gunner. Their website, HealthCareforGunner.com, lays out in a way only a mother could how President Obama’s health care plan would limit Gunner’s access to cystic fibrosis specialists, drugs and much needed tests.
Kristan Hawkins says: “Jonathan, Gunner’s father, and I created this website because we want people to understand what we are talking about when we talk about health care reform. We hear politicians and policy makers reference rationing care but there is never a face to rationing. Gunner can be that face. We want people to know.”
And what is it they should they know? Currently, the Hawkins family is covered by insurance Jonathan receives from his job working as a public school teacher in West Virginia. When Gunner was diagnosed, they were first directed towards a specialty center over three hours from their house. When they asked their provider if they could instead bring Gunner to the Children’s National CF Center in Washington, DC since it was 90 minutes closer and had better data scores, the provider agreed, and covered under “in-network” costs.
If Gunner needs a specialist, he sees one. If he needs a test, he gets it. If he coughs, wheezes, or seems to be taking a turn, a 24-hour hotline to a specialist is available. They can quickly determine and act if he needs additional breathing treatments or blood tests.
Gunner has also visited the University of Minnesota CF Center for consultations which requires some additional “out-of-network” costs. A cost Kristan is willing to pay for Gunner to be seen by the best specialists in the country. Gunnar’s medical costs are only going to grow, and the Hawkins are already saving for that future.
As Kristan says: “While the financial costs of taking care of a CF child are high and dealing with the complexities and bureaucracy of the insurance industry is time consuming, it is worth it. We happily pay these costs to keep Gunner healthy, and we know that there are existing programs out there, public and private, that will help us when costs increase.”
The President often talks about the dire letters he receives, highlighting the crisis and the need to act quickly. Like on Wednesday, when during his new conference Obama said: “I’m rushed because I get letters every day from families that are being clobbered by health care costs. And they ask me, ‘Can you help?’ So I’ve got a middle-aged couple that will write me and they say, ‘Our daughter just found out she’s got leukemia and, if I don’t do something soon, we just either are going to go bankrupt or we’re not going to be able to provide our daughter with the care that she needs.’ And in a country like ours, that’s not right. So that’s part of my rush.”
So obviously, Gunner must be the subject of one of these letters asking Obama to pass his health reform, right? Not so fast. The President is either failing to mention, or completely ignoring the pleas of people like Kristan Hawkins who are begging the President to stop trying to build a health care system that will hurt children like Gunner.
According to Kristan, if President Obama were to get his way on health reform, Gunner’s quality of health care would be severely diminished. His easy access to CF specialists and doctors would be limited due to funding issues and long wait lines. His treatments, which expand the life of cystic fibrosis patients, would be delayed. His access to life-saving drugs would be limited and the government would control what he gets and when. In fact, a government-appointed committee would make decisions that affect Gunner’s life, based primarily on financial incentive.
In Britain, Canada, and Ireland, where similar systems to the President’s desired outcome exist, the quality of care for a child like Gunner is wholly inadequate and life expectancy is as much as ten years shorter. Specialist centers are underfunded, patients have a hard time getting drugs, and there is ample evidence of treatments being denied because of cost. In fact, there aren’t even enough trained specialist doctors and nurses available, even if the government would fully fund a CF center.
Gunner’s situation is not unique. Yes, there are families who have a more difficult time getting the proper care for the ones they love. Yes, there are uninsured Americans who don’t even have the limited luxuries the Hawkins family can afford. Yes, reform is needed. But to pass a bill that transforms the greatest health care system in the world into a mediocre level playing field is not the right track, for Gunner or for anyone. The President surely gets letters from families needing help. But he also gets letters from people begging him not to interrupt their care. A cautious, bipartisan approach to reform that takes all sides of this issue into account is clearly the approach necessary.
Mr. President, meet Gunner Hawkins. Gunner wants to grow old in a country that cares about the full value of his life, and not the bottom line. Gunner deserves this opportunity, and Gunner deserves to have a voice, even if for now it is simply heard through his rock ‘n’ roll bunny.