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Medicare for All: Medicine for a For-Profit System Addicted to Itself

After years of pain, anxiety, and poverty under the status quo it is almost impossible to describe the relief I've felt after becoming eligible for Medicare this month.

"What came as a huge shock following my recent birthday was not the financial relief—though that is lovely," writes Smith. "The more significant and potentially cost-saving result for all of us lucky enough to have Medicare coverage is the mental and emotional relief I have felt in such a short time. It’s as if someone lifted a ton of weights off of my back and set my sails into a prevailing wind." (Photo illustration: David McNew/Getty Images)

"What came as a huge shock following my recent birthday was not the financial relief—though that is lovely," writes Smith. "The more significant and potentially cost-saving result for all of us lucky enough to have Medicare coverage is the mental and emotional relief I have felt in such a short time. It’s as if someone lifted a ton of weights off of my back and set my sails into a prevailing wind." (Photo illustration: David McNew/Getty Images)

Just three short weeks ago, I became Medicare eligible. And shortly afterwards I faced a serious health crisis. What I never knew is how absolutely protected I would be as a Medicare beneficiary when compared to the previous 64 years of my life "covered" by private insurance. My mindset has shifted already, and I wonder how many people realize the power of Medicare to provide freedom, security, and access to care.

In so many of my years before Medicare, the very first thing I considered when ill was the potential cost of seeking care and how I would be able to pay those bills. I would race to the Internet to seek my own medical advice. In years before, such easy access to reputable online information, I would often play the “wait-to-see-if-I-get-better” game that so many of us play rather than enter the money-draining, bottomless pit that is private insurance coverage in a dysfunctional health care system.

"I waited for the business office to come wheeling into my room as they always had in the past. No one came. In three days of hospitalization, not one word was said to me about how I intended to pay for my care. Not one word. It was such an amazing feeling."

No choice ever seemed to be the right one, and the worst feeling of all was going for care only to find out the problem was not serious. I felt like I had wasted my family’s precious money in those cases. In other situations when I chose not to seek care, an illness sometimes turned out to be serious and my delay in receiving care had only made things worse. It is the guessing game too many American patients are forced to play in this greedy, market-driven system that fuels nearly 20% of the nation’s economy.

What came as a huge shock following my recent birthday was not the financial relief—though that is lovely. The more significant and potentially cost-saving result for all of us lucky enough to have Medicare coverage is the mental and emotional relief I have felt in such a short time. It’s as if someone lifted a ton of weights off of my back and set my sails into a prevailing wind.

I had become nearly suicidal about every new physical illness or injury. My first worry about the next round of collection calls—whether from hospitals, doctors, clinics, or labs—was gone. Overnight. Gone. I had not realized how much I had internalized my fear and shame about needing care. Yet, my emotional well-being had been under attack for decades. Medicare coverage lifted the din. No one could ever strip me of my coverage again.

Almost to reconfirm my sense of relief, I was in need of an emergency room visit and subsequent care just last week. After check-in and placed under the care of the “heart swarm” team, I waited for the business office to come wheeling into my room as they always had in the past. No one came. In three days of hospitalization, not one word was said to me about how I intended to pay for my care. Not one word. It was such an amazing feeling, and I am so very grateful to all the Americans before me who fought to secure Medicare for seniors like me and the disabled. Yes, I am aware there are things we need to fix about Medicare. No lectures about Medicare’s shortcomings. We can and must address those issues.

"Medicare lifted so much of that depression and anxiety in an instant. Imagine the cost savings to all of us if we love one another enough to really demand that kind of peace of mind for everyone. Close your eyes: imagine that."

Imagine my surprise and joy to have the freedom to live. No silent worrying and wondering if my death would be better for my family financially. No thinking about how to die without leaving a mess of debt. My mind and my heart have been so burdened with worry that my mental health took a huge hit for years.

Becoming eligible for Medicare lifted so much of my depression and anxiety in an instant. Imagine the cost savings to all of us if we love one another enough to really demand that kind of peace of mind for everyone. Close your eyes: imagine that.

Medicare for All is not only the best health policy fiscally and socially, it turns out it is on a very personal level the most healing, compassionate and freeing thing we can offer one another. And that is the kind of America I have believed in for a very long time. Now is the time to get it done.

Donna Smith

Donna Smith
Donna Smith Donna Smith is the national chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign for Progressive Democrats of America.  She was featured in Michael Moore’s 2007 documentary, SiCKO.

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