March 3, 2013

Sick in America

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Contrary to what some may believe, access to healthcare is not a birthright, and despite the widespread coverage on the controversy surrounding U.S. healthcare reform, understanding the underlying interconnections of the healthcare system can be difficult. Funded by the Cornell Undergraduate Health Cooperative, an umbrella organization for many health-related clubs, the Sick in America Series is an annual weeklong conference that takes place every spring to raise awareness about healthcare issues in the U.S.

Kicking off the weeklong series, Paul Bursic, Director of Cornell Benefit Services; Prof. Nicolas Ziebarth, policy analysis and management and Valerie Lyon, Associate Director for Business and Finance began with an introduction to how the healthcare system affects individuals on and off the Cornell campus.

Tuesday’s talk was about midwifery. Speakers Lisa M. Benedetto and Katie Pierce, certified nurse midwives of OB-GYN Associates of Ithaca by March of Dimes, answered questions about their field.

“Some people think of a midwife as that granny that comes to your house, delivers your baby, then cooks you dinner and cleans the sheets,” Pierce said. “Well I don’t do any of that. We are hospital-based midwives.”

According to Pierce, although there are many types of midwives, most are registered nurses. Many people assume that the only purpose of a midwife is to assist in a birth. But midwives also assist in prenatal care, newborn care and GYN and primary care for women.

“In New York State, a midwife has to have an agreement with a physician to take care of the things we can’t take care of,” Pierce said. Midwives are not doctors, but they are trained to assist doctors in order to improve women’s experiences with childbirth. For example, midwives can prescribe medicine, educate patients to prepare them for births and make suggestions to doctors. Benedetto stressed that every pregnancy, every labor, every mother and every baby is different, and therefore each birth must be personalized so that the pregnancy is as healthy as possible. Benedetto explained that the job of being a midwife goes hand in hand with the mission statement of March of Dimes: to help mothers have healthy pregnancies.

Wednesday’s session was on ObamaCare, or the Affordable Care Act, and how it affects minorities in America. Samuel Wu, a public health advisor in the Office of U.S. Minority Health, phoned in to the lecture.

Before the Affordable Care Act, Wu said, “50 million Americans had no insurance at all. This made many Americans feel like their healthcare insurance was out of their hands.”  The Affordable Care Act will end abuse from insurance companies, make healthcare more affordable and strengthen medicare.

Understanding the current healthcare system, how to use it and the politics behind its structure can be difficult. As the keynote and final speaker of the Sick in America Series, Nate Shinagawa ’05 M.A. ’09, former Congressional candidate, current Vice Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature and Guthrie Hospital Administrator, wrapped up the series with his personal view of the system.

“I find it amazing how your professors can talk about the specifics of a proposal and not discuss the politics when the politics is really what drives change,” said Shinagawa. Giving his own touch to the stories of political influences on hospital efficiency, Shinagawa warned the audience about the future of doctors. With more insurance owners, the United States is going to need more primary care doctors.

Right now, a person without insurance must go to a hospital even if they only have a cough to get checked. It is a waste of resources and is expensive for the patient, so Americans without insurance avoid going to the doctor. According to Shinagawa, once every American has healthcare, more people will be going to the doctor on a regular basis.

The saying goes, “there is no such thing as a free lunch.” Policies can make it easier for Americans to afford healthcare, but someone is going to have to pay. Changes in the laws affect everyone. So it is in every American’s best interest to understand as much as possible and keep up with these changes.

Original Author: Samantha Klasfeld