Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Broker Websites Expand Health Plan Shopping Options While Glossing Over Details


By Julie Appleby

Kaiser Health News

This article originally appeared on Kaiser Health News.

Some websites consumers use to buy their own health insurance don’t provide full information on plan choices or Medicaid eligibility, and appear to encourage selection of less comprehensive coverage that provides higher commissions to brokers, according to a report released Friday by the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

These direct-enrollment broker websites — including eHealth, ValuePenguin, GetInsured.com and some named after the insurance carriers they represent — are not the state-based marketplaces or the federal exchange, known as healthcare.gov.

The commercial sites promise more options to consumers shopping for health insurance. They can offer Obamacare plans, for instance, as well as lower-cost but less comprehensive plans, such as short-term policies and other types of coverage that don’t meet the federal Affordable Care Act’s requirements.

About 42 percent of enrollments for 2018 ACA plans were arranged through sales agents or brokers, with many of them relying on such alternative websites to enroll their clients, noted the report.

But consumers who use alternative portals, the report warned, don’t have the same shopping experience as applicants accessing state or federal marketplaces. That’s because government sites must provide full information on all available ACA choices and cannot steer consumers to non-ACA plans. The government marketplace also is responsible for accurately processing applicants’ eligibility for Medicaid or premium subsidies. The commercial sites generally don’t have those responsibilities.

Two years after sharp financial cuts by the Trump administration for enrollment outreach and funding for navigators and other assistants helping people sign up for ACA plans, the administration encouraged consumers to seek out brokers for help.

For next year’s enrollment period, it is considering changing the rules to allow federally funded navigators to also use the alternative websites to enroll consumers.

There are differences among the alternative websites. “Not all entities have these problems,” the report concludes. “But the program lacks safeguards to protect consumers from harm.”

It found that some direct enrollment websites:

Use default settings, chat boxes and other design methods to highlight alternatives that earn the web brokers higher commissions, such as low-cost, short-term insurance plans, which cover less and can reject people with preexisting conditions. Either fail to inform or provide inaccurate assessments of whether applicants or their family members might qualify for Medicaid or premium subsidies to help them get coverage. Fall short of providing full information on premium costs and deductibles for all the plans available in a region.
The commercial websites are “under-policed,” said report author Tara Straw, a senior policy analyst at the center.

The administration, she said, should more closely monitor website design and how well the sites inform consumers of their potential eligibility for government assistance in purchasing coverage.

Because of the drawbacks, consumers who use some of these websites are at a disadvantage, lacking the ability to adequately comparison shop, the report warned.

As a result, some may choose non-ACA plans, such as short-term insurance, which may not be their best option. Others may be discouraged from applying for coverage at all if the websites inaccurately indicate they might not qualify for a subsidy or Medicaid.

“That’s the problem,” said Straw. “The websites can say, ‘We’re telling people to complete the application [to assess subsidy eligibility],’ but who is going to do that when they’re showing all the plans at the unsubsidized price?”

Comparison shopping on some of the websites is limited.

An example outlined in the report focuses on Duval County, Fla., where the eHealth website shows a list of ACA policies described as “17 of 17 plans” available. Each of those 17 shows the costs of premiums, deductible amounts and other details. At the bottom of the screen, however, eHealth lists the names of 32 additional plans available from Florida Blue, the state’s largest insurer, without any specifics on cost and coverage.

If consumers stopped there, they would not know that on Florida Blue’s website they could find 15 plans that are less expensive than the lowest-cost plan listed on eHealth, according to the report.
“Without visiting multiple websites, consumers would have difficulty finding and comparing their plan options,” the report said. “This is the type of fractured shopping experience the marketplace is designed to remedy.” It noted, however, that one web broker, HealthSherpa, did list all 49 plans available in Duval County.

An eHealth spokeswoman countered that the website makes it easy for consumers to get additional information on available plans it may not sell directly.

“When they get to the bottom of the page, they see 32 additional plans available through the federal marketplace, with a hyperlink directly to that marketplace,” said eHealth’s Lisa Zamosky.
To avoid having to visit multiple sites, Straw offered consumers simple advice: “Go to healthcare.gov.”


Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Female Athlete Triad: The Condition Teen Girls in Sports Need To Know About


By Hannah Canter, MD
Pediatric Resident at The University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School 
Member, Texas Medical Association 

Participating in sports is very beneficial for teens. Athletes have better cardiovascular fitness; better school performance; and decreased drug, alcohol, and tobacco use. Yet in recent years, as more girls have become active in sports, our awareness of the potential negative effects of athletics on the female body has increased.

Female athlete triad is a condition in which inadequate calorie intake negatively affects the menstrual cycle and bone health. This can lead to serious problems such as decreased strength and endurance, injuries, and poor growth and development.

Understanding Energy Requirements 

Female athletes need enough energy for exercise in addition to what is required for normal growth and development. Girls who participate in sports that emphasize leanness – such as gymnastics, dance, figure skating, and long-distance running – may be at an increased risk for low energy availability, even if they have a normal body mass index (BMI).

Here is what teen athletes should do:

  • Active teens need to consume approximately 2,300 calories per day, even up to 2,900 calories per day for those who are very active.
  • Calories should come from a balanced diet of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.
  • Girls who are unable to meet these dietary goals may need to see a dietician or decrease the amount of exercise they are doing.

Menstrual Period Abnormalities

If girls are not eating enough calories to keep up with the energy they expend, their menstrual periods can become irregular or even stop completely.

  • Girls who have not started their period by age 15, or girls who go three or more months without a period should be evaluated by a doctor.

Bone Health

Healthy teenage girls gain 2-4 percent in bone mass every year. When girls have irregular periods, or no periods, they are at risk of instead losing 2 percent of bone mass each year. This can lead to osteoporosis and sports-related injuries such as broken bones.

  • All teens should consume 1,200 mg of calcium and 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D per day for healthy bone growth.
  • Girls who are not having regular periods should increase their daily calcium and vitamin D intake to 1,500 mg and 800 IU, respectively. Good sources of calcium and vitamin D include milk, yogurt, green vegetables, or fortified orange juice and cereal. 
  • The addition of calcium and vitamin D supplements may be necessary for teens whose dietary intake is limited.

Overall, the health benefits of being active in sports outweigh the possible risks. Girls should be encouraged to participate in athletics. Teens, parents, coaches, and doctors just need to keep in mind the increased energy requirements for female athletes. They also should be on the lookout for poor eating habits, irregular periods, or injuries that might point to female athlete triad. Prevention and early treatment of this condition can help promote optimal growth and development, prevent serious injuries, and allow female athletes to perform to the best of their abilities.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

VIDEO: Mumps Virus Causes Puffy Cheeks and Sometimes, Serious Complications

Editor's Note: This video is part of a monthly Texas Medical Association series highlighting contagious diseases that childhood and adult vaccinations can prevent. MeAndMyDoctor.com will post a video about a different disease each month. Some of the diseases featured will include: Flu, Measles, Pneumococcal disease, Human papillomavirus (HPV), Chickenpox and shingles, Hepatitis A, Pertussis (whooping cough), Rubella (also known as German measles), Rotavirus, and Polio.

TMA designed the series to inform people of the facts about these diseases and to help them understand the benefits of vaccinations to prevent illness. Visit the TMA website to see news releases and more information about these diseases, as well as physicians’ efforts to raise immunization awareness.



In this short video, Austin pediatrician and physician leader Arathi Shah, MD, discusses the severity of mumps, having witnessed the disease firsthand as a medical student in India. She discusses why it's important to get vaccinated, and who should get the shots and when.

Mumps is a contagious disease caused by a virus. Symptoms usually include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Infected patients typically get puffy cheeks as a result of swollen salivary glands. Mumps spreads through sneezing, coughing, and direct contact with infected surfaces. Doctors say people of any age can experience symptoms two weeks after the virus has already entered the body.That means, as Dr. Shah explains, for a couple of weeks someone could expose people to the disease before they even realize they are sick.

Mumps cases have been on the rise in the United States the last few years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than 2,000 mumps cases were reported in 2018. In Texas that year, outbreaks were reported in Fort Worth, San Marcos, and Dallas. The most recent mumps outbreak in Texas was just last month in Houston.

Mumps can be prevented with the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. The CDC says when health officials first introduced the shot in 1967, the number of cases dropped 99 percent. Doctors recommend children get two doses of the vaccine. Some people opt for the MMRV shot – which includes a chickenpox vaccine. Adults who haven't been vaccinated, along with college-age students, can also get the vaccine. During outbreaks, doctors suggest high-risk groups to consider a third dose.

Monday, March 4, 2019

A Short Glossary of Terms Used In Health Care Reform Debates

By Sarah Fontenot

Editor's Note: This article was previously published on the author's website, SarahFontenot.com.

Hello!
Earlier this month I released my Fontenotes Beyond the Slogan “Medicare for All.” The response illustrated how much confusion there is over titles used to describe various political arguments for revising our health care delivery system.

“Universal Coverage,” “Insurance Mandates,” “Two-Tier Insurance,” “Single-Payer System,” and “Socialized Medicine,” are bandied about as both endorsements and attacks- but does everyone agree on what those labels mean? There really shouldn’t be controversy about the terms- they each have definitions and examples- which I will share with you here.

Health care promises to be a critical issue in the next election (only 620 days away!). If we can’t use words consistently, we have no hope for a constructive debate on this vital topic. 

Interested?

Please read on-

 – Sarah


Universal Coverage


Universal Coverage (often called “Universal Health Care”) refers to a system where every legal resident of a country has insurance for health care. The underlying principle behind “Universal Coverage” is that with insurance people have better access to medical treatment.

The insurance may be from the government or private companies, and the care itself could be from either a government-controlled system or private providers.

Regardless, there must be some governmental involvement in achieving Universal Coverage, through a mandate for insurance, or other legislation determining to “whom the universal coverage care should be provided, the type of coverage that is included, and the type of care that is provided.”

The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was the first successful legislation in America that attempted to achieve Universal Coverage; I say “attempted” because even if it was fully implemented (and it was not), the ACA missed the mark of insuring all Americans. 

The goal of the ACA underscores how unique the USA is in not insuring its populace. As of 2009,­ the year the law was passed­ “thirty-two of the thirty-three developed nations had universal health care, with the United States being the lone exception." 

What that means is all those other countries have fully insured populations. Presumably, patients in these countries worry about what news they will get in their doctor’s office- in America, people worry as much about the news they will get in their billing statement.

Universal Coverage can be obtained by:

  1. Insurance Mandates,
  2. Two-­Tier Programs, or
  3. Single-­Payer Systems

1. Insurance Mandates


In insurance mandate countries the government has required everyone to obtain insurance coverage, whether through the government, private companies, or a combination of both.

Nothing in this type of system is contrary to private health care providers. Insurance coverage is mandatory, but the care itself can be in private hospitals or doctor offices. These systems do not necessarily require medical treatment to be only in government-owned facilities.

As stated by President Obama, the goal of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was to achieve Universal Coverage through an insurance mandate. The decision by many states to not expand Medicaid (and other loopholes in the law) have left many people uninsured, but the original ACA plan of expanding Medicaid nationally, requiring individuals to have insurance (whether through their employer or individually), and protecting Medicare was designed to achieve  – for the first time  a universally insured American population.

Examples of countries with an insurance mandate include Germany and Switzerland.

2. Two­-Tier Programs


In some countries, the government requires every citizen to have basic insurance coverage (through the government) to cover catastrophic circumstances such as accidents and significant illnesses but also allows their citizens to choose whether to purchase supplemental insurance (or health savings account) for more routine care. These are known as “Two-­Tier” systems.

The “Two-Tiers” moniker points to the reality that the wealthier citizens will purchase more insurance for (presumably) better care, but even the poorest will have the basic medical care assured by their government.

It is important to note that in these systems there may be privately operating hospitals, physicians and other providers. The Two-Tier refers to payment- not quality of care (although- again- money is likely to create that dichotomy as we see here in the U.S.A.)

For examples of Two-Tier systems look at Ireland, Israel, and Singapore.

3. Single­-Payer Systems


In a single payer system, one source purchases all health care. Arguably this could be a private entity, but in reality, this happens through a nation’s government.

When a government is paying all the bills, that money comes through taxation. No country offers free care- the public pays for it either in the exam room or through taxes.

Please note that in a single­payer system there can still be privately run hospitals and independent physicians. The payment comes from the government (or other entity), but the care does not necessarily have to.
For illustrations think of France or our own Medicare program.


What is “Socialized Medicine?"


A Socialized Health Care system starts with Universal Coverage but involves far more government involvement. Under a socialized system, the government pays for all the care- and also delivers that care in hospitals and facilities the government owns and operates. All the physicians, nurses and other health care professionals are government employees- from birth to death every patient encounter is with the government.

In other words, Socialized Medicine starts with a single-payer as we just discussed, but it adds the other side of the coin- the distribution of the medical care itself. 

Warnings of “Socialized Medicine” are rampant in the debates surrounding various current “Medicare for All” proposals, were equally strident during the passage of the ACA, and resonate back to advertisements against Medicare by Ronald Reagan in the mid-1960s.

All three times the pundits were incorrect. Medicare in 1965 did not result in a government take-over of providers, Obamacare did not shut down hospitals or require physicians to give up their private practices, and none of the “Medicare For All” proposals currently floating about- not even the most extreme  will result in a system where care is delivered in hospitals and facilities the government owns and operates.

To call any of these “Socialized Medicine” is just wrong- it is not a correct use of the term.

For accurate examples of Socialized Medicine, think England and the United Kingdom, or our very own VA system.

Conclusion


I hope this serves as a quick glossary of words we will all hear incessantly through this election cycle.

The concepts are very detailed and knotty- the terms are not.

Want to Know More?


  1. In 1986 EMTALA (The Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act) was passed- requiring any Emergency Room that accepted Medicare (and as a practical matter they all do) to provide medical screening and stabilizing care for any person who comes into the ER for care, regardless of their ability to pay.

    ER personnel are not even supposed to ask if the patient has insurance before they receive the screening. However, care under EMTALA is not free- which is frequently misunderstood by the public and politicians.

    For more information about EMTALA- as well as some consequences to ERs and providers- the American College of Emergency Physicians [ACEP] has a Fact Sheet here.
  2.  If you are interested in how other countries pay for- and deliver- health care there is an excellent interactive guide here from the Commonwealth Fund. Not only is the information on each countries’ health care system quite detailed- it covers far more countries that most resources I have seen (Australia, Canada, China, Denmark, England, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, USA). I highly recommend this resource!
Sarah Fontenot is an adjunct professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, author of the Fontenotes Newsletter, and popular speaker who brings clarity to health care legal and policy issues.  

Monday, February 25, 2019

A Measles Refresher

By Jason R. McKnight, MD
Family Medicine Physician, Bryan
Clinical Assistant Professor, Texas A&M Family Medicine Residency Program
Member, TMA Leadership College

Currently, there are eight confirmed cases of measles in Texas. While this may not sound like many, there were less than 100 measles cases reported nationwide as recently as 2010, and in 2016 only one case was reported in Texas. In the year 2000, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared measles “eliminated.” However, given the increasing number of parents opting their children out of getting vaccinations, measles has crept back into the U.S. health care spotlight. Measles spreads incredibly easily, and 90 percent of unvaccinated persons will contract the disease when exposed to someone who’s infected. Since many physicians and parents are young enough never to have seen a case of the measles, a refresher about the presentation and complications of the disease seems timely.

 A case of measles usually includes the following symptoms: An early fever (which tends to be fairly high), a runny nose, conjunctivitis (eye redness), and a typically dry cough. This tends to start three to four days before the onset of a rash on the skin. Unfortunately, because of those early symptoms, people might at first think they have a common cold or another upper respiratory virus. The danger is that all that time the infected person is contagious with measles and could unknowingly be spreading their infection to others. The rash, once it appears, typically starts on the face and spreads to the trunk (back and chest/stomach) and outward to the arms and legs. Usually the rash does not spread to palms of the hands or soles of the feet. The rash itself is macular (flat), erythematous (red), and when you press on a spot, it usually temporarily becomes more faint or disappears. Sometimes the rash will gather to form larger “splotches.” Patients can also have a rash in their mouth, called Koplik spots, which are whitish in appearance and usually line the insides of the patient’s cheeks.

A measles diagnosis, in the short term, can be made based on the symptoms and physical exam. If you or your physician are highly suspicious, you should contact your county health department and alert them. They can tell you what kinds of tests are recommended to confirm whether it’s measles. If you are diagnosed with measles, you should quarantine yourself at home for four days after the rash appears.
The virus can survive in air for about two hours, so people should minimize contact with the infected person and stay out of the room where they’re resting. This is particularly important for patients who are young, old, pregnant, or have a weakened immune system. As I mentioned earlier, measles spreads VERY easily.

Several groups of people are at greatest risk of developing a serious case of measles and/or complications from the disease: Those who are at the extremes of age (infants, toddlers, and the elderly); those unable to receive the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine (including babies less than 12 months of age or immunosuppressed patients); and pregnant patients. About one in three of these people will suffer a serious illness or complications. The most common complications include diarrhea, a secondary respiratory infection like pneumonia, encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and other neurological disorders that can cause coma, paralysis, seizures, and death.

The two-dose MMR vaccine series is about 97-percent effective at preventing infection. Therefore, if an individual has been vaccinated appropriately, it is unlikely that they could contract measles, but not impossible. That is why a physician would want to obtain the vaccine history of anyone who has measles-like symptoms. As a patient, this is a great reason to make sure you are up to date on all vaccinations.
The two-dose MMR vaccine series is about 97 percent effective
at preventing infection. 

Now to calm some alarm: Just because someone is having a viral rash or symptoms of a cold, that does not mean they have a measles infection. That’s unlikely to be the case. However, as with all uncommon things in medicine, doctors need to be vigilant and diagnose the condition, especially since measles cases have cropped up again.

Let this be the point that puts measles on your radar: Since patients can be contagious up to five days before rash starts and remain contagious four days after the rash appears, and since measles is highly contagious and has the potential to spread rapidly before anyone even recognizes there may be an outbreak, it’s clear why vaccination against this preventable disease is so important. This is especially critical to protect to the health of patients who cannot be vaccinated.

For more information visit:
https://www.cdc.gov/measles/index.html 


https://www.dshs.texas.gov/idcu/disease/measles/ 

Friday, February 22, 2019

It Could Happen To You


Editor's Note from MeAndMyDoctor:  In "Polio- A Personal Story," Kim Taylor, executive director of the Wichita County Medical Society, wrote about her father, TMA physician member Thomas Taylor, MD, and his life with polio. Shortly after being diagnosed (and before he went on to medical school), young Mr. Taylor penned an article about his experience for the Pasadena Citizen newspaper  titled “It Can Happen to You.” We thank Kim for sharing that article, first published by the newspaper on Jan. 27, 1955. 




By Thomas Taylor, MD
Dermatologist, Wichita Falls, TX
Member, Texas Medical Association 

Editor’s note from the Pasadena Citizen: Here is one of the most heartwarming and touching stories the Pasadena-North Shore Citizen has ever had the privilege of offering. Written by a young Pasadena polio victim, the story describes the life of a happy, ambitious young couple before polio appeared to spoil—at least temporarily—the high hopes and dreams of a typical American man and wife. It’s the story of the victim’s battle with the disease and his refreshing and wholesome outlook on life despite the tragedy which still handicaps his living. Read this and we’re confident your gift to the March of Dimes campaign will be doubled if not tripled. We hope you enjoy this remarkable story by Tommy Taylor, 2602 Morningside Lane. His wife, Kay, teaches a second grade class at Red Bluff Elementary School.

There is a period in my life that I shall always remember. Even yet it seems as if I might have dreamed it all a horrible nightmare from which I would awaken—yet, when I reached for my crutches it is all there again, very much, for it do happen to me. I had polio.

My wife Kay and I had wonderful dreams and plans for our future as does every young couple just starting out. I wanted to be a dentist, and we decided I would study at the University of Texas Dental Branch in Houston.

The summer prior to our college graduation and subsequent marriage we had both worked and pooled our savings for our educational fund.

Since my wife was to teach at an elementary school in Pasadena we found a home as near as possible to the  school. Pasadena seemed such a warm friendly place, and it has proved to be just that. Everyone we have come in contact with has been wonderful to us. Helping us, not in words alone, but by their deeds of kindness.

I enrolled at the dental school September 20, paid my tuition, purchased the instruments necessary to my study. Then it happened! A blow that threatened to shatter all our dreams.

Dr. Taylor's photo was printed on the front page
of the Pasadena Citizen on Jan. 27, 1955.
Courtesy of Kim Taylor
I attended my first day of classes only to become ill and return home that afternoon after seeing my doctor. He ordered me to bed and the next day when the reports came in on my various tests his diagnosis confirmed his suspicions of the illness. He gave it to me straight. It was the terrifying disease, polio.

My wife and (I) both were too stunned at first to grasp the truth. It is a disease we have all read about but never thinking it will happen to us. The thought was flashing through my mind—many others have had polio, and I am no different from the others as it could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

I more or less marshalled my numerous thoughts into some sequence of order and made up my mind to fight for all I was worth. I would not give in to my fear, but I would win my fight. But a little nagging doubt kept assailing me, Could I do it?

My wife has been an inspiration. Her attitude has constantly been a courageous one, a determination to treat my condition as just an ordinary illness. But even her courage and determination could not still the anxiety over our rapidly mounting expenses. How could we meet this great expense?

Then help came. The Polio Foundation took over. My doctor told me I was being sent to Hedgecroft Hospital in Houston.

Looking more like a home than a hospital this lovely red brick building faces Montrose Boulevard. It is surrounded by stately trees dripping their festoons of cypress moss, wise old veterans that have seen many patients come and go.

Hedgecroft was my haven. I found courage and hope there. During those long nights of pain and fear I knew there was always someone there to help me. Doctors, nurses, and therapists are professional in their care of the patients, and they are friends we need to instill confidence and hope and somehow you know everything will be all right.

Since my release from the hospital, spending almost two months there, I return three times a week to continue with my physical therapy. I have graduated from the wheel chair phase of my illness and am now able to walk with the aid of crutches.

How have I, one of the many polio patients, benefited from the Polio Foundation deriving its support from the March of Dimes? Let me tell you how!

Thomas Taylor, MD (right) with his wife
Kay (middle), and daughter Kim (left).
Courtesy of Kim Taylor 
First, I was given the assurance that I need not worry over the mounting expenses. I was given professional care and physical therapy so necessary to start me on the long road back to a normal life. I was under close observation by doctors who have devoted years to the study of this dread crippling disease.

Now that I am home I receive regular check-up visits from the Harris County Health Department Nurse. The friendly interest and words of encouragement mean a lot to the patients visited and cared for by Nurse Belcher.

Transportation is furnished to me for my trips to and from the hospital to take my physical therapy treatments. All of this is furnished by the Polio Foundation.

I have been told by the Texas Rehabilitation Agency that my schooling may be resumed as soon as my health permits with this agency paying my tuition. I will be able to complete my studies and at last enter the field of my chosen profession.

Kay and I are dreaming our dreams again. A happy future lies before us. We owe our heartfelt thanks to all those unselfish contributions to the March of Dimes. We can never repay them, but we offer a daily prayer—may others be helped by your contributions as we have been helped. Paul said in Acts 20-35, “Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.’.”

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Polio – A Personal Story

By Kim Taylor
Executive Director, Wichita County Medical Society 

Editor’s Note:  Each month the Texas Medical Association highlights a vaccine-preventable disease. In February, TMA is featuring polio, a disease that attacks muscles, most notably in the arms, legs, and those used for breathing. The disease can cause paralysis. 


In this story, the author shares how polio affected her father, TMA physician member Thomas Taylor, MD, a dermatologist based in Wichita Falls.


Polio has always been a part of my life.

My dad, Thomas Taylor, MD, contracted polio in September 1954 – as he entered dental school. Up until then he even dreamed of becoming a professional golfer. He was 20 years old, living in Houston, and had been married to my mom for only three months when a polio outbreak ravaged America and made him ill. People he knew did not survive that outbreak. He and my mom lived a few blocks from the local hospital, but there was no room to admit him as a patient. Thankfully, since they lived so close, the doctor came by three times a day to check on him. Dad could not walk.

Doctors treated him with the Elizabeth Kenny method of rehabilitation, an alternative form of polio treatment brought to the United States from Australia in the 1940s. It involved applying moist, hot compresses to ease muscle pain, and gently exercising the paralyzed muscles. Dad regained the ability to walk.

Thomas Taylor, MD, before he married
 his wife  Kay, on June 6, 1954.
Courtesy of Kim Taylor
After taking a year off dental school, he returned to study. However, sitting was not allowed in dentistry, so after one year, Dad decided to switch to medical school. (Standing for long periods was too difficult.) To enroll, he had to take two medical school requirements in the summer of 1956. He often talks about how difficult that summer was for him — taking two tough classes, in different areas of Houston.

Dad started medical school at The University of Texas Medical Branch that September. Texas Rehabilitation Agency (known then as the Polio Rehabilitation, sponsored by March of Dimes) paid for his medical education. Daddy graduated and went on to practice dermatology in Wichita Falls. In addition to caring for patients, he served on the Wichita County Medical Society Board for about 10 years, as secretary, president-elect, and president, in 1978. The society honored him with the Distinguished Service Award in 1998. Dad also served for more than 20 years as president of the Wichita County Educational Foundation. The foundation raises money to fund scholarships for paramedical students at Midwestern State University and Vernon College (both which are in the Wichita Falls area).

When Dad went to his 50th medical school reunion, only he and one other doctor were still practicing medicine. That doctor had polio from the same epidemic in which my dad caught it (supposedly six months before the vaccine came out in 1955). That doctor never made it out of a wheelchair.

Thomas Taylor, MD, today.
Courtesy of Kim Taylor
Dad retired on his 78th birthday, in December 2011. In his final working months before retiring, he saw at least 65 patients a day even though he worked just three days a week and clocked out at 2:30 pm.

I think Dad retired when he did only because by then, he walked with a walker and really needed to use a wheelchair. Up to that point, he wheeled himself at work from room to room on an exam chair — he’d had handrails installed in his hall years before because his balance was so poor. Dad used the walker only for about a year. It took a while for Dad to suck up his ego to accept using a wheelchair.  
Now, Dad uses a wheelchair full time. He can’t move his legs at all.

Despite these challenges, my parents – who are devout Christians – always told me that my father getting polio was actually a blessing. It forced Dad to abandon his pro golf dream, quit dental school, and go on to become a very successful dermatologist.

The author (third from left) with her parents and four
siblings in Summer 2018. Courtesy of Kim Taylor 
Mother says it also taught him empathy. He resisted letting the disease affect him physically. Dad always had a limp and walked without aid until about 25 years ago, when he started using a cane. (He swears the Kenny method allowed him to walk without leg braces.)

People don’t realize how bad polio is. Nor do they understand that post-polio is worse, because it is progressive. There is no cure and no research on it because, supposedly, polio was an eradicated disease. At 85, Dad is doing well, but if a post-polio person does not have the financial resources my parents have, they would be up that proverbial creek.

With the debate on vaccinations taking center stage, I tell people who are against vaccines about my father. Dad is out and about all the time, but few people realize that polio put him in a wheelchair. He is one of the few polio survivors left to remind and educate us about the devastating disease.

I wanted to share my family’s story. My four siblings and I realize how blessed we are that Daddy survived polio – especially since many did not – and he and my mom were able to go on to have five children. My parents will be married 65 years in June.

Polio is an awful disease. We need to keep vaccinating everyone against it so after my dad and other survivors like him are gone, polio will exist only in history books.

Editor’s Note: The author’s father, Thomas E. Taylor, MD, penned an article for the Pasadena Citizen titled “It Can Happen to You.” In the article, published on Jan. 27, 1955, Dr. Taylor discusses the moment he learned he had polio, how it put a detour in his education, and the people who helped him treat his condition. Watch for “It Can Happen to You” on MeAndMyDoctor.com.
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