For most of my adult life, I’ve had to live without health insurance. Because I was a freelancer for many years, or because I did not have a fixed residence for a while, or because my skills and career interests often meant that the best jobs available to me were with small companies or non-profit organizations that did not offer benefits. I spent something like 6 years without health insurance.
Whenever I caught bronchitis (about once a year), I had to wait it out and hope that it wouldn’t develop into pneumonia. I constantly worried that the cancer I’ve been free and clear of for years would come back. If I ever broke a bone? I was screwed. Once I caught a severe bacterial infection and lived with it for over a week before finally breaking down and going to a doctor though I knew I couldn’t afford it. Forget about managing my high blood pressure, or getting advice on avoiding the diabetes and heart disease that runs in my family.
My situation was hardly the most dire. I may have been one emergency room trip away from missing my rent payment, but I have a large and loving family, so I have a net. Many people don’t. Many people do not have the benefits of education and skill that I have. Many people are like me, with skills that are useful and sought after, but not always by companies that can afford to bring them on full time, or offer benefits to any staff. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of other reasons why a person may not have access to health insurance, and are therefore barred from regular access to health care.
Any time I hear someone going on about how horrible socialized or universal or government-run health care is, I think back to the many nights I would go to bed worried that my heart palpitations meant the onset of a heart attack, but I couldn’t afford to go to the emergency room just to be sure (the last time I had done so it cost me $250 for a doctor to look at me for 5 minutes and say I was fine). So I’d fall asleep, heart racing, probably in the midst of a heart attack, partially convinced I might not wake up in the morning. I also think of my friend with asthma who would suffer through particularly bad attacks which the over the counter spray did not alleviate, hoping that it would pass, or that breathing techniques would work, and calculating if she had enough credit on her Visa to pay for the emergency room again. Or that little boy who died because of an infection in his tooth that would have been simple to fix except his mother couldn’t afford to take him to a dentist.
Every time I see protesters or blowhards on television I wish I could infect them with 5 minutes of the terror a person without insurance feels when they know that something is seriously wrong but don’t know if it’s wrong enough to warrant possibly missing a house or car payment. I’m willing to bet that most of these people haven’t spent very much time without an insurance net. Certainly not with a serious or chronic illness, either in themselves or a family member. Certainly not while having just enough money to get by. It’s so easy to protest and condemn when you’re comfortable, well-off, and secure, isn’t it?