SAN DIEGO, October 10, 2012 – In January, 1988, Vice President Joe Biden, then Senator from Delaware, was diagnosed with two brain aneurysms. In February, 1988, he underwent surgery to repair one of the weakened/ballooning arteries on one side of his brain. Shortly thereafter, he suffered a blood clot in his lungs known as a pulmonary embolus, which required timely, life-saving hospitalization and treatment. In August, 1988, the second damaged artery on the other side of the Vice President’s brain was surgically mended in a 270 minute operative procedure under general anesthesia.
People with a history of blood clots, brain surgery and/or brain aneurysms are at a significantly increased risk of ‘stroke’ (a layman’s term to denote a lack of blood flow and oxygen to brain tissue due to a clot-induced vessel blockage or outright vessel rupture and bleeding). The Vice President, today, remains at an increased risk for stroke.
Mr. Biden’s personal medical history begs the question of fairness and honesty when it comes to any discussion of the current White House administration’s signature health care reform legislation, which the President himself now proudly refers to as Obamacare.
Under Obamacare, it is widely known that many aspects of the U.S. health system will be reduced in terms of funding, restricted in terms of availability, and/or eliminated altogether under the rationing body known as the Independent Payment Advisory Board.
Every year in the United States, over 30,000 families will struggle with the terrible losses inflicted by ruptured aneurysms; over 40% of their stricken loved ones will not survive the initial rupture. Of the remaining roughly sixty percent of patients afflicted, many will be left with irreparable brain damage. We do not know the extent of brain injury suffered by the Vice President due to his cerebral aneurysms, but it is clear that he received the best of American medical care.
Over six million Americans are walking around every day with an intact (not ruptured) brain aneurysm. The Vice President had symptoms of severe neck pain, headaches, and nausea which preceded what could have eventually developed into a full-blown (and likely fatal) rupture; many patients are not so lucky.
Regardless of the ultimate clinical presentation and outcome, the key to minimizing morbidity and mortality in brain aneurysm patients is the timely response of the emergency medical response system, hospitalization, rapid radiologic studies and treatment.
Despite the plethora of critiques on this subject, it is hard to predict the exact nature of the diminution of medical care across America that will result from the austere cut-backs in staffing, pay, supplies, equipment and research/development due to full implementation of the Obamacare law. What we do know is that this legislation, while creating 159 new government agencies, will ultimately cut resources and approximately 700 billion dollars over ten years from Medicare alone.
Brain aneurysms can result from chronic disease (high blood cholesterol, hypertension) or genetics (inherently weak arterial walls or a congenital conditions); they can also be created by trauma. Interestingly, they provide a perfect disease model about which to judge a healthcare delivery system. Once symptoms or signs of a possibly brain aneurysm appear, the need to get a proper diagnosis, testing and treatment is urgent, if not emergent. There is very little room for error.
Worldwide, there are approximately 500,000 deaths from brain aneurysms each year; the number one reason for death or serious neurologic injury is the failure to get timely assessment and proper treatment.
In seventy-three percent of cases where a brain aneurysm is misdiagnosed, there is no radiologic scan of the brain performed. In other words, in nearly three-fourths of all brain aneurysm patients worldwide, death or severe injury results because of under-qualified clinicians, inadequate emergency response or a lack of equipment—namely, CT Scan or MRI machines necessary for absolute diagnosis.
How would then-Senator Biden have fared if his brain aneurysm had become symptomatic in the context of tomorrow’s Obamacare reformed medical system? Will future sufferers of this tragic disease be afforded the same level of care as the Vice President did even decades ago?
Most critics of the Obamacare law say that the underlying, rather explicit purpose of the legislation is to make America’s medical system more ‘Canadian’ or ‘more like Europe’. The intention is simple: limit medical resources, control the utilization of services, and decrease costs. Studies out of the Netherlands on traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients, of which brain aneurysms could be considered a local subset, indicate that both U.S. and European citizens, each, account for about 1.6 million incidences of TBI each year. In Europe, however, about 66,000 of these same patients die per year; in the U.S., the figure is about 50,000.
If Obamacare causes the U.S. medical system to become more European, who will be amongst the additional, preventable 16,000 deaths per year from traumatic brain injury?
Should future Obamacare patients be afforded a lesser degree of medical care than the Vice President himself benefitted from back in 1988?
Or is the hypocrisy of politics so callous as to unnecessarily risk American lives for a new medical delivery system that was neither designed nor endorsed by America’s doctors. This is a question Vice President Biden should address in his debate with Congressman Ryan—but we won’t bet our life on that one.
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