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In late August, my daughter’s longtime pediatrician broke the news that he was retiring. I congratulated him first and panicked next.

For nearly 12 years, we’d gone to the same practice. I can still see my tiny girl in her car seat – all four pounds of her after she was discharged from the neonatal intensive care unit nearly 12 years ago – and hear her name called out loud in the pediatrician’s office for the first of what would be many, many visits.

Now we would have to start over.

Doctors retire all the time but it’s different when you have a special needs child. Not only would we need to find someone who’d have to quickly get to know my complicated daughter – she was born with a rare genetic condition called Cornelia de Lange Syndrome that affects pretty much everything – but we’d have tackle an endless avalanche of paperwork. I’ll admit it: I dreaded the paperwork the most.

Switching pediatricians caused a ripple effect with our insurance. The referrals to my daughter’s many specialists – at least nine – were no longer good once her old pediatrician retired. We’d need new referrals for every single specialist from her new primary care doctor. My panic turned to anger.

For a health care system considered the best in the world, there’s no question it still has serious flaws. Never mind the fact that millions of people still struggle to access the system at all and the insanely high costs, the administrative hassles are a nightmare. The paperwork and costs for a family like mine can be enough to make you want to slam your head into a wall.

Still, I’m grateful. I’m grateful we have insurance – primary and secondary – and access to great doctors. But accessing that same insurance to see those same doctors can be so challenging that at some point it seems easier to simply say, “I give up.”

For years, battling insurance has become almost a past-time, as it is for many special needs parents. When my daughter was born with hearing loss, our insurance didn’t cover hearing aids. We had to get secondary insurance to cover her hearing aids alone.

When we needed a medical stroller because my daughter couldn’t walk long distances, that was another uphill battle. The approval process took so long with endless forms to be filled out by various therapists and doctors to justify the stroller that our durable medical goods company stopped accepting our insurance so we had to start all over.

So as Democratic presidential candidates debate overhauling health care and possibly moving to a Medicare For All system, I’m listening. So are many others.

Questions loom about huge tax increases, long waits and the impact on private insurance. Would a single-payer system such as Medicare for All cut costs overall, reduce the red tape and improve health care for millions of Americans? Critics say no. Aside from the big tax hikes, they say it would create long waits for care and fewer doctors.

Proponents, on the other hand, say a single-payer system would eventually reduce costs and also lead to more thorough care when patients don’t have to ignore conditions because they can’t afford to see a doctor or medicine.

A study conducted by a team from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Healthcare Policy & Innovation and published earlier this fall, for example, found that nearly one in three low-income people who enrolled in Michigan’s expanded Medicaid program discovered they had a chronic illness such as diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure that had never been diagnosed before. Those same conditions, if left untreated, could cause serious and life-threatening consequences such as stroke or even death.

“Michigan’s Medicaid expansion emphasizes primary care and health risk assessment, and many enrollees were found to have a chronic condition that will benefit from ongoing management,” said Dr. Susan Goold, a professor of internal medicine at UM, in a press release.

When people have not just insurance, but the ability to access and use that insurance, many use it. And that’s a good thing – for all of us. 

My family, meanwhile, will continue to manage my child’s many chronic conditions (and battle our insurance). I’m not sure if a single-payer system would improve our lives or not. What I do know is our current system has vast room for improvement.

mfeighan@detroitnews.com

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