Each holiday season for the past decade has been a series of difficult reminders. December brings with it a reminder of my sister’s premature birth on Christmas and her subsequent eight-year struggle of medical challenges. I often think about the seemingly insurmountable medical debt we incurred and how little we could afford to give. This past year, however, struck a glaring contrast from those of the past 10 years. This is the first holiday that we are finally free of medical debt. Recently, instead of my own family’s financial struggles, I have been thinking about the countless individuals who will go through a similar struggle as we did due to the current pandemic.
As we enjoy the start of a new year, I would urge people to look at the innumerable stories of medical debt, like my family’s, and consider the necessity of a national healthcare system, like Medicare for All.
My sister required over 20 surgeries, around the clock home monitoring with nurses, and more hospital stays than I could count, among other care. Within a couple years of her birth, my parents had already burned through their savings, retirement funds, and loans from family. Even with relatively good insurance, the co-pays, deductible, and uncovered costs were crippling. While she successfully recovered 8 years later with no medical assist devices, a milestone that was worth every dime, it was not without undertaking massive debt in the form of credit cards, a second mortgage, family loans, and no savings.
Looking back, the amount of time and energy that we spent managing the finances while simultaneously trying to care for my sister was unbelievable. Every day was filled with calls to our insurance company to ask for more coverage, calling credit card companies and banks, and monitoring an ever-growing excel sheet of what we owed.
To say that the stress and constant reminder of my sister’s struggle disappearing was a relief would be a complete understatement. It was not until last month that I realized how much of my actions and thoughts, family decision-making, and the conversations my family had were about debt and money. It consumed us. It was a burden that defined the past 10 years of our lives.
With the current challenges of millions of people losing their jobs, losing their source of income, and becoming ill with COVID-19, medical debt will increase even further from the 56% of adults who struggle with it prior to the pandemic. As my family has experienced, medical debt can snowball. The average $1400 out-of-pocket costs for insured hospitalized patients with COVID-19 can quickly escalate. Even without direct COVID-19 costs, other healthcare costs can crush families, especially with an predicted 10.1 million people having lost insurance through 2020. While the costs of some COVID related health expenses have been controlled for both insured and uninsured patients by recent bills, these legislative pieces did not alter the costs associated with other diseases.
The struggle of having debt invade every thought, every small financial decision, every day of your life is not an experience I want anyone else to go through. Even before this pandemic, the costs of chronic care in the U.S. pushed many into unconquerable debt. Now as the entire country struggles with a health crisis, it is an opportunity for us to consider reform within our system. A system that punishes a young child for trying to live and causes her family to spend more time worrying about the debt of care than taking care of her is not something we can continue. As we enjoy the start of a new year, I would urge people to look at the innumerable stories of medical debt, like my family’s, and consider the necessity of a national healthcare system, like Medicare for All, where all individuals have access to healthcare and abhorrent medical debt is not a norm.