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Second Guessing a Life: US Health Care System Robs Security and Human Dignity

The dysfunction of the US health care system does more damage than causing the deaths and the bankruptcies forced on the sick and injured who don't have enough coverage or cash to afford life-saving care.  The damages extend to robbing millions of people of their personal sense of security and human dignity. The recent insurance reforms offered through the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare don't do much to relieve the suffering.

Most of us have no way to predict when an illness and injury will strike, and most of us do not have an infinite stash of cash ready for any health crisis.  Even with health insurance, many of us do not have any or adequate sick or personal leave time to allow us paid time off from work.  As medical costs mount, work pressures do too.  Few bosses or businesses can wait forever for the absent employee to be well enough to return to full duty.  It is even worse for those who are trying to attend to someone else who is sick.  Missing work and losing pay multiplies the pressures many-fold.  And American society is not forgiving about these conditions in our families and our neighborhoods.

With the situation at work tense and personal finances taking a beating, medical bills and costs mount.  Co-pays, deductibles, co-insurance and the like grow at the same time other household expenses keep right on coming due -- all while the available funds shrink.  It is like being caught in a vice we are unable to control.  The pressure grows; the vice tightens.  It becomes harder to work to recover when the pressure to make money, to cover bills and not create more debt is looming ever larger.  Even friends sometimes urge the sick or their caregivers to be grateful that worse has not happened -- and that is so true.  But then hidden deep inside and alone in the pit of the stomach is the worry and the fear about money and bills and work hours and bosses who care little about the recovery of their employees.

The Affordable Care Act/Obamacare didn't fix that.  Even the claims that no one will go bankrupt are false and misleading.  Of course people will go bankrupt when they get sick or hurt.  Money doesn't grow on Obamacare trees, does it?  My recent illness has been very costly to my household.  Lost wages and increased costs have devoured thousands of dollars in just over two months.  And even some people I would expect to be kind about the losses have been almost smugly pleased that they somehow have dodged the bullet my husband and I have faced too many times now.

So, would a reformed health care system help this?  Improved and expanded Medicare for all for life?  Of course it would.  At least a health care system that provided for a single standard of high quality care for all without financial barrier would remove a huge set of worries and financial pressures from millions of people.  Until we actually have a society that values its members enough to care for people through their worst difficulties, it seems at least civil and even economically sound to fix the financial dysfunction of the profit-driven, greedy health care system so that health and life are valued first.

Then I can dream of the day when the US joins many other nations on earth in supporting people who are burdened with sickness or injury without judging them and trying to find fault in their infirmity.  We will get there some day when we realize it is smarter for all to care for one another.  It is smarter fiscally, morally and in every way.  Unless, of course, we want to continue allowing the profiteers to convince us otherwise.

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith is the executive director of Progressive Democrats of America.  PDA's mission is to strengthen the voice of progressive ideas inside and outside the Democratic Party by using "inside/outside" and "grassroots fusion" models of working both in the Democratic Party as well as working with other progressive organizations both inside and outside the Party.

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