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Why I Support Universal Healthcare
As many of my compadres know, my wife and I head down to Wellsboro, Pennsylvania each year for the Susquehannock Trail Performance Rally, a two-day rally race through the forests of north central Pennsylvania. Most years, my wife works in net control and I work out in the woods as a navigator and radio guy on the Trakker team, the first non-competition team that enters the stage shortly after the last competition car. Fun, challenging, and a great way to spend the weekend.
Of course, as anyone involved with rally knows, nothing ever goes according to plan. I spent much of Thursday morning working, then helped my wife haul the remains of a downed fence to the curb. We grabbed lunch, finished packing, then went to a meeting in the early evening. About an hour into the meeting, my back started getting particularly stiff, as it often does after sitting too long. I excused myself, and tried some stretches to get it limbered up. Alas, none seemed to help that much. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I did advise my wife that she was going to have to drive, and I took muscle-relaxing and pain medications.
My back, unfortunately, started hurting more and more as we drove. We’d stop every once in awhile and I’d try to help whatever was wrong, but nothing was working. Somewhere around Avoca, the pain became unbearable, and I spent the rest of the trip roiling around in the back seat, unable to stay in the same position for more than a few seconds. This was not a stable situation, and I feared there might be some serious underlying problem.
As we approached Wellsboro, I declared an emergency. I told my wife that we’d drop our belongings off at the B&B, and once that was done, I’d like to be taken to the emergency room. Of course, she took me there, and within about a half-hour, I was receiving intravenous pain medication and on my way to get a CT scan for possible kidney stones.
I did not, at any point during this ordeal, think about the costs involved. My only concerns were getting better, and ensuring that everyone relying on me – my wife, my teammates, etc – were informed about my situation and able to keep things going, since I was certainly not going to be able to do much the rest of the weekend.
This makes me one of the luckiest people in the world. I am married to a card-carrying member of IBEW Local 86. In my wallet, I have an insurance card.
I don’t yet know how much the ER visit cost, and we will undoubtedly have to pay something out of pocket, but the hospital will get their money, the doctors and radiologists and nurses will get theirs, and I will not have to cash in my IRA or declare bankrupcy or dicker with the hospital’s Accounts Receivable department. Thankfully, there were no kidney stones or other obvious acute problems, so I was only there a few hours and left with a prescription for a common medication to treat muscle spasms (which shall not be named, thanks to the anti-spam filter), but it could have been worse.
There are about 46.3 million people in the United States (as of 2008, per the Census Bureau) who do not have the luxury of health insurance, for whatever reason. Many can’t afford it, others can, but choose to opt out of it. If I were one of those 46.3 million people, the hospital would have been required to treat me (under EMTALA), but I would be personally responsible for the full cost of treatment. Like any other debt, I would either have to pay it or suffer deleterious consequences to my credit reputation. In other words, by entering the emergency room, an uninsured individual assumes a significant risk of financial ruin. The hospital also (involuntarily) assumes a risk of not receiving any compensation for emergency treatment of this individual.
That’s fifteen percent of the population of the United States. Some are already in financial ruin, some will be fortunate enough to avoid it, but it does impact all of us when it happens. A hospital must pay their bills, even when a patient cannot; this increases the costs for all of us, especially when the emergency room is used for primary care by those who have already fallen into the abyss.
I do not see my prosperity and security as things rare and special, as jewels to hoard and protect. Indeed, our society’s wealth is not defined by the “high scores,” like some sort of arcade game, but rather by the shared prosperity and security of all. I cannot fully enjoy my health insurance as a privilege, knowing that it is as essential to my success and sense of well-being as clean air and water, yet it is merely a perk of choosing a particular way of life. I do not want to be part of an exclusive, elite club of people who can enjoy the privileges of a healthy life under the guidance of physicians.
If this makes me a socialist, then I’ll gladly be a socialist.
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