Sick Inside Our Broken Health System with that Old Familiar Terror in My Gut

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Common Dreams

Sick Inside Our Broken Health System with that Old Familiar Terror in My Gut

I stepped up to the appointment check-in desk last Thursday as I prepared to have the CT scans needed to find out what the heck is going on with my body.  Many know I have been ill off and on since the day after Christmas, and I spent a week in the hospital after becoming so ill that dehydration was taking a toll on me. Doctors ordered lots of tests while I was in-patient and because the major symptoms have only been masked by meds and have not gone away, there is lingering concern about my cancer status, etc.  So I needed to be re-scanned to find out what is going on before we move forward with other care or treatment.

Drinking the barium in preparation for the test was not much fun when I've been taking anti-nausea medication off and on for a month.  And I knew they'd also be starting an IV for more contrast dye to see as much of my belly as possible.  I was nervous.

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The woman at the check-in desk pulled up my record and first asked for my co-pay for the test -- $250, but then also asked if we wanted to make some progress on paying the now more than $2,000 I owe against my 2014 deductible and out-of-pocket costs.  I was instantly transported back to the terrified and angry places I have been so many times before when seeking health care has meant choosing between taking care of my health and hurting us financially.  My husband stared at me in disbelief and told the woman we would not be making payment on the $2,000.  We paid the $250.  As we walked back to the radiology area, I felt like leaving in shame.  I was ashamed of myself for needing care, ashamed of myself for not knowing how much the co-pay for the one test would be, and mostly ashamed of myself for not being wealthy enough to just take care of myself.

My shame and terror lasted right through the time when I went in for the scan.  Then I started to get angrier about the system that does this to me over and over again.  We need improved and expanded Medicare for all for life -- a single standard of high quality care without financial barrier -- so no one ever again is more terrified and ashamed of a co-pay than he or she may be of finding cancer or some other serious illness brewing inside.  I don't want to see my husband's angry face in a medical waiting room.  I want to see him supporting me, comforting me when necessary and maintaining his own calm in the face of medical issues.  This is just such an awful system.  And the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, as we all know, did not end these scenes from happening all over the country thousands of times every day.

I also spoke to a young man yesterday who is a friend of mine and who has just learned about how much his Food Stamps are going to be cut.  This young man struggles with some physical disabilities that make it impossible for him to work but he always maintains such a positive and caring attitude.  His Food Stamps had been a monthly benefit of $80.  Now he will get $15.  Can you imagine?  He also helps push for a change to our health care system as he has had to reapply and reproof his eligibility for Medicaid and his Medicare over and over again.

What is wrong with us that we have become such a selfish, greedy and boldly uninterested society.  So many people just truly do not care unless the trauma is unfolding in their own lives and costing them cash.  Have we really lost the ability to show our compassion for one another by making sure the social safety net is what it needs to be?  What do we not get about an injury to one is an injury to all?  The lessons I learned as a child about trying to do what is kind and just seem more needed now than ever -- and my parents were both pretty conservative Republicans in terms of their political affiliations.  Now we have both Democrats and Republicans signing off on policies that hurt people -- and policies that hurt average people also hurt those who think themselves invincible.

We can change the system.  But we have to be prepared for some ugly fights that will sometimes be waged against people who claim to be our friends.  But what we cannot do is stand by and do nothing while people feel so much terror and shame that is not of their own making.  Do something.  Step up.  Stand for changing this system before you have to stand alone.  The dead and the broke numbers below are not made up of anonymous, unimportant souls.  They are you and me, our neighbors and friends—until the day when we've finally had enough.

February 9, 2014:  Today's count of the health care dead and broke for profit in the U.S.:

The 2014, to-date U.S. medical-financial-industrial-complex system dead: 4,920

The 2014, to- date U.S. health care system bankrupt: 79,120

** These figures are calculated based on the Harvard University studies on excess deaths in the U.S. due to lack of insurance coverage or the ability to pay for needed health care, and the Harvard University study that calculated the high percentage of personal bankruptcies attributable to medical crisis and debt in the U.S. 123 people die daily due to lack of coverage or cash to pay for care; 1,978 go bankrupt every day due to medical crisis and debt though the majority had insurance at the time their illness or injury occurred. This statistic is also based on the 1.2 million bankruptcies in the U.S. in 2012, according to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, and calculating those medically-related bankruptcies from that number.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith is the Executive Director of Health Care for All Colorado and the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation. 

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