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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?

32 comments to On Health Care

  • Crystal

    I can relate. My mother has been deathly ill for the past five years, but will not see a doctor until she can barely stand. Why? Because she has been self-employed most of her life and doesn’t have health insurance. She recently told me, if I can just make it to next year. Then she will qualify for Medicaid.

    I have health insurance and I only go when I absolutely have to because of a $1000 deductible. Many do not realize that this reform will also benefit us who have insurance but still can’t afford to get sick.

  • bindicated

    I am with you 100%. I have health insurance now, but I was without it for several years. During that time, I sucked it up as far as my depression/anxiety went, treated a UTI with herbal supplements I bought on the internet (thankfully, it either worked or my immune system took care of things, because I never did see a doc) and had my SO “stitch” up a gash on my elbow that I got from falling off my bicycle. By “stitch” I mean that he went to the drugstore and got some of those adhesive strips and disinfectant, irrigated my wound, held it shut for a while, and then sealed it up with strips. It healed fine, maybe more scarred than it would have otherwise (I don’t care about that–I’m not an elbow model), but I spent several weeks worrying that every redness was the onset of infection. My situation wasn’t really that bad, and like you, I also have education and skills that gave me some sense of resourcefulness, and a family who would have stepped in to prevent anything truly dire from happening to me. But how much imagination does it take? My perspective is that even though I have insurance and relatively good health now, I could lose either and then be up the creek. Even people in currently stable situations will benefit from universal health care, and when they refuse to see that, I really want to smack them around.
    B.

  • Bonnie Davis

    Maybe we should call it civilized medicine instead of socialized. What kind of a country are we that we let people die of preventable causes because they (or their parents) are poor? A backwards, classist, foolish country. If we were a little more civilized (and empathetic), we could all see why it’s absolutely necessary for EVERYONE to have health care.

    I get batshit crazy when I hear my family and friends going off in this vein, especially. Never mind that most of them receive SSI and Medicare (but don’t you dare bring that up, because that’s different).

  • This is what I have to go through now. I want to shake the people who are adament against helping others. And, I’m not even that bad off. I just have a body full of aches and pains, rotting teeth, allergies, and occasional bouts of colds, flus, and other common illnesses I have to work through because I earn $8 an hour and can’t afford to lose a few hours to go to the doctor, let alone pay for checkups or treatments.

    When I think of my own potential for good, and all of the potential for good that is lost because someone didn’t have health care and died, it just makes me angry.

  • What people need is health access… Affordable health care access.

    Before Obama’s platform to make health care available to everyone, Assurant Health had already diversified their major medical portfolio to accommodate people who need health benefits that offer:

    * Affordability
    * Usefulness
    * Value
    * Accessibility, and
    * Flexibility

    Right now the plan is only available in 17 states and more are coming soon. But it is available.

  • Magnetic Crow

    I’m a freelance artist, as is my husband. Chances of us being able to afford healthcare or receive it from work? Nil.
    My father-in-law is a Republican, and is anti-healthcare reform. His answer to people like us? We should have entered career fields that pay a lot, provide health insurance, and which we hate–just like him.
    It all seems to come down to bitterness in the end.

  • Momsomniac

    My oldest son (age 5) has a rare medical condition that is treated with a very expensive drug. His condition is not life-threatening, but would have life-long consequences if not treated.

    The deductible for his medication just went from $15/mo to $150/mo. And the insurance instituted a $100,000 maximum LIFETIME benefit, which he’ll hit probably before age 10.

    See, I have good insurance – really good -as long as it’s just “regular” stuff to be treated. Anything unusal, expensive, well, enough said.

    How I would love not to have to worry about this for my little boy. How could that be bad? The people opposed to reform – I wonder, has no one they loved ever been hurt been this system?????

  • Rob Hansen

    You won’t be at all surprised to hear that most of what you’re hearing about in your press about Britain’s National Health Service is a lie. For a more accurate picture see Michael Moore’s SICKO.

    I know several American women who moved from the US to the UK 20-25 years ago and who therefore all now have several decades experience under both the UK and US systems. Every single one of them prefers the UK system. One of these women is my wife. A few years ago she had major eye surgery at Moorfields Eye Hospital, a world-class establishment. The bill at the end of her stay: nil. She believes that had she still been living in the US, with the medical coverage she might realistically have had, she could now be blind.

    For my own part, the NHS has existed for all of my 50+ years. Healthcare is something I’ve mostly never given a thought about in that time. If I need it, it’s there. And that’s the way it should be. I agree with the poster above who said it’s not ‘socialized heathcare’ it’s ‘civilized healthcare’. That’s a meme that definitely needs to get out there.

  • Alex

    I went to school for audio engineering – I wanted to become a recording engineer. It is still a dream of mine, indeed, and I try to do that on the side as much as possible. But, after having been in the industry for a relatively short while, I realized that my quality of life was not going to ever be what I wanted it to be – particularly when starting a family. Hence, I took a job in a related, but decidedly different field.

    Part of my decision was, indeed, healthcare. It is difficult to freelance in any industry and get adequate insurance, understandably so. But I made a conscious choice to get into a field where healthcare is readily available via employers. Was it my top motivation? No. But certainly part of the equation.

    So, my question is this: how are others’ career choices my responsibility? Why should my taxes subsidize your decision to freelance? There are plenty of (valid) arguments for universal healthcare, and plenty of (valid) ones against it. But I fail to see how your career choice is one of those.

    • Deoridhe’s point below is apt. I pay taxes just like you, so do other American citizens who either have health insurance or don’t. Why shouldn’t our tax dollars be used for this?

      It’s like saying that, because you plan to kick off at 55, or because you know you will due to terminal cancer, why should you have to pay into social security, or medicare? I don’t drive, but my tax dollars go into maintaining roads that I don’t use. Why should I subsidize your choice to operate a car when it contributes to pollution and global warming besides not being something I do? All of my tax dollars should go to the subway, right?

      There are many things our tax dollars do that do not directly relate to us or that we may not directly benefit from. The purpose of taxes is to provide for government and government services that benefit all citizens. So if my tax dollars go to fund schools, feed children, provide housing for lower-income families, and a host of other things that do not directly affect me, I can’t complain, because it also funds public transportation, public libraries, the fire department, the police department, and a host of other services I have or probably will need in the future. This is what taxes are all about.

      Finally, you assume that, if there was universal/government health care that you would have no part of it because you get insurance now. I wouldn’t be so sure of that.

      I don’t see why you’re complaining. If we had a system similar to Britain’s, you and many other people would not have to forgo the career they are passionate about simply because they wouldn’t have health insurance.

    • I also made a conscious choice to get into a field where healthcare is readily available via employers.

      And you know what?

      It PISSES ME OFF that I had to make that sort of choice in a society as advanced as ours is.

      As to your other points, ABW and Deoridhe answer them nicely.

    • Josh Jasper

      Lets say you get laid off, can’t find work, and run through your savings. If we had some form of government backed health care option, someone might as why their tax dollars should subsidize your lack of planning in not having enough savings.

      But beyond that, lets say you win, and get your way, and health care continues not to cover Tempest’s costs because she’d have to buy into an expensive private plan. So, instead of going to a doctor that she can’t afford, she waits and hopes that she won’t require an emergency room visit. Multiply this option out by over forty million people. Stop and think for a moment what results that has in th long term, and if you have half a brain you’d see that your tax dollars going to pay for Tempest to get health coverage is in your best interest no matter what. Because having an increasing number of citizens without coverage it an unsustainable option.

      Eventually, sweeping the masses of uncovered people under the rug is going to become such a drain on the economy that it’ll screw things up for everyone. It’s actually better for the economy if people aren’t financially ruined by health care debt on a regular basis. Because when that happens, that person’s earning potential is taken out of the economy. Overall, it’s a “tragedy of the commons” situation. If we don’t all have some form of coverage, the damage isn’t just to the individuals who get sick, it’s to the economy as a whole.

      It’s not noticeable if all you’re talking about is Tempest. But the costs of 40 million plus people taking that risk, or even 25 million, is causing everyone’s health care costs to go up, as well as damaging the economy.

    • Alex, I understand your frustration. I took a crappy job I didn’t love to get health insurance too. And I’ve seen the poor nonprofit organization I left falter for years, at least in part because I left it (also, my other uninsured colleagues left, too. It’s complicated, but our replacements insisted on health benefits and that, among other things, financially crippled the org.)

      Thing is: the uninsured job I loved that I left? You know the organizing community arts one that sounds so fluffy and stupid? That’s the one where I affected the most people. Literally hundreds of folks who participated in our programming came of age as community members thereby. They came to terms with the racism they had to deal with growing up in this society, learned how to work in groups, found a community of friends and colleagues, got their artistic ya-yas out so that they could become what Republicans would deem “useful and productive” members of society, all while still being artists, and they learned transferable job skills. These folks are more well-rounded, involved, ethical, practical, and useful people than they were before, and than they would have been if they hadn’t participated in this programming.

      And that’s part of the love, that’s why I was so passionate about my selfish, fluffy, uninsured, poorly-paid, nonprofit job: I could see myself affecting people and society for the better, every day. And we’re not just talking about those people I touched directly. People who have transformative community experiences like this end up becoming leaders. I’ve seen dozens of our participants go on, in a few years, to take on executive positions in social service and arts nonprofits, in start-up businesses, in larger companies. They are becoming the people who help, the people with the power to make others’ lives better or worse.

      Society needs people like me, doing the things that I do. People don’t just grow up all of a sudden at the age of 18 or 21. High school and college educate people, but they don’t produce good citizens. You and everyone else benefits from the uninsured work I used to do, and you and everyone else suffers when I, and others like me, don’t do it.

      I acknowledge and respect your decision to “take care of business” by getting the not-for-love job with the health benefits. But think on this (and this is a rhetorical question): are you doing it for society, or are you doing it only for yourself and your family? Being responsible in one way sometimes means not being responsible in another.

      I’m not going to pretend that I worked that nonprofit job solely To Help Society; that would be a lie. But the effect I had on the world around me was patent and immediate, and a huge part of why I loved that job. Please keep that in mind when you talk about Tempest’s decision to work freelance — in a field that directly impacts huge numbers of people’s ideas about life, the universe, and everything — as not affecting you.

  • I’ve gone without insurance for most of my adult life, but like many of the commentors so far, I did have family to fall back on. It did mean I didn’t get regular dental visits, and I’m paying the price for that now.

    It really sucks that health insurance has to be a major factor in career and job choice. My father would like to quit his job and take up another career, but he can’t, because both my parents really need his insurance. My mother has a job, but since it’s for a medium-sized church, she can’t get health insurance through them.

    I would really like to have a part-time job. Living on part-time pay would be harder than full-time pay, but I’d consider giving up the money for the extra time for myself and for other projects. Except that I can’t do without the health insurance. Now that I have it, I feel trapped in my job to keep it.

    I like the phrase ‘civilized medicine’. I’m going to start using that.

  • Deoridhe

    Why should my taxes subsidize your decision to freelance?

    Why do your taxes count, but not the taxes of the person you’re talking to?

    I love the term “civilized healthcare” and will comence with phrase theft.

  • Adlyn

    I was wondering on you other post you have footnotes, where did you get them?

    ^-^

  • The thing that gets me is that I’m not even certain that all of the anti-universal healthcare protesters are privileged enough to have good coverage and overall good health. Wasn’t there a story about a protester who was beaten up outside a town hall and needed contributions from fellow protesters to pay his medical bills?

    And yes, looking at it from the outside, both the state of American health care and the virulent, irrational opposition to universal coverage make no sense at all. I’ve never given health care a second thought – it’s always been a given that excellent, world-class care was mine the minute I needed it, and no one I know has ever made career decisions based on medical coverage. That people in the developed world live with this kind of fear is unbelievable to me.

  • Phoebe

    And then there are those of us who *thought* we had good insurance, but chose our medical condition poorly, such that it wasn’t actually covered.

    I once had a friend suggest we get married, just so I could share her insurance. It was a serious offer, and I’m ashamed to say it took me an entire weekend to decide to turn her down. (In the end, it was only by marriage that I got full insurance coverage, and I was on the verge of bankruptcy at that.)

    Anyone who has never had to wrestle with these issues, who doesn’t understand that there are people who every day have to decide between food and medicine, to my mind needs to talk less and listen more.

  • JD from Oakland CA

    “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”

    I think she’d be a lot less angry if she took responsibility for her own life. She needs to understand/realize that there is no “moral right” to any insurance. Just as there is no moral right to a mortgage or a car.

    • I unmoderated this comment but not your other one because the other was troll-y. This one is somewhat troll-y as well, but contains an argument that is worth refuting.

      I did not claim that I or anyone had a moral right to health care. I realize this has been said elsewhere, but not here. This is what’s called a strawman.

      But let’s talk about rights, because it’s interesting that you bring them up. We have many rights as citizens of this country that are laid out in our constitution and our laws. What makes health care less of a worthy right than the right to a fair trial, or the right to representation? How about the right to bear arms? Some would argue that owning and operating a gun is not a moral right, and yet we have it. What makes some rights better than others?

      If we create a government-run health care system and make that a right of every American citizen by law, will it suddenly becoming an okay right to have? What is a “moral” right, and why isn’t having insurance one of them? Because you say so?

    • Actually, JD, I’m not letting your response through because you can’t seem to make your case without random ad hominem attacks. Try again.

  • Ash

    This just…yes. So much yes.

    I know what you’re talking about, here. My father is basically crippled because of debilitating knee pain, and not only is he not able to afford a second knee replacement after at least a decade of saving up (he got the first one done when I was around eight or nine), but he can barely afford the medication necessary to keep the pain from becoming excruciating. That, and he has to wait in line for several months in order to get it when he CAN afford it. It’s because of stuff like this that, when people try to tell me about “long waiting lines” if we get socialized medicine, I am of the humble opinion that they make good friends with the toe of my boot.

    I’ve also seen blatant classism at work here in my person life, as well. I work at a resort as a lifeguard, where everyday, I encounter and serve many people who are much more economically privileged than I. There is one older woman that actually lives at the resort that I speak with regularly–she is a lovely woman, truly. However, on one occasion, she brought up the health care debate, how she was against the reform, and that we didn’t need it. I politely mentioned that I supported it because many people can’t afford the health insurance they need to survive. She countered with the emergency room argument, and I had to take a few breaths. I then related to her the story of a friend of mine who, given his economic status, once stayed home and just hoped that his 105 degree fever wouldn’t kill him, because he couldn’t afford the bill for the emergency room. I also pointed out to her that it wasn’t uncommon for extraordinary medical bills to lead people to bankruptcy and financial ruin.

    She answered me by saying–quite honestly, mind you–that she had never heard of medical expenses causing a person or family to go bankrupt. Outstanding medical bills could only ruin your credit, right? That’s not that big of a deal!

    At that point I had to cut the conversation off with a very forced smile and a casual shrug, set to hide an overwhelming feeling of despair in my heart. This perfectly decent woman was so removed from the world of people less fortunate than her that she could so blithely make that kind of comment. That frightens me and, I think, very much goes back to the comment you have made here: she has no idea what this means to people that are not so lucky as her.

  • I think the worse part of this whole argument is using Canada, and Great Britain to refute the argument and concealing the countries in which it works. I live in Italy, am American, and a former healthcare professional. My husband is Italian, so I am on the national healthcare plan. One thing that I like is that there are no big “I’s” and little “i’s”. In other words, unlike in America, no one bows for important people and treat the least fortunate like dirt. I don’t walk away with ton’s of bills, or unnecessary revenue building exams, or follow ups and I have never had to wait. Italy has participated in a lot of ground breaking research alongside the United States and they have some very efficient doctors. The draw backs are pretty much the comfort level. If I go to the hospital, I may have to bring my own sheets, towels, cups and saucers. There are no shiny well decorated facilities with the latest modern art and people aren’t constantly smiling for fear of losing your business.
    My only concern about the healthcare system is the further decimation of the middle class. Right now, although, it’s not necessarily right, radiology and other allied health procedures are revenue builders. Jobs in CT, Mammography, Ultrasound, and Cardiac ultrasound, for example pay on average around 23 dollars per hour for level I professionals. Many of them work on a per diem basis starting anywhere from 35 to 85 dollars per study. Allied health professionals, along with nurses make up the heart and soul of the medical community. If you cut the need for these procedures, through treatment algorithms, and pay cuts, more people are going end up unemployed and in need of retraining. Everyone is concerned about doctors, and are blind to the nurses and Techs making up the upper middle class.

  • “I think she’d be a lot less angry if she took responsibility for her own life. She needs to understand/realize that there is no “moral right” to any insurance. Just as there is no moral right to a mortgage or a car.”

    So JD, there is no difference between letting your citizens die versus their owning a car or house? You’re a very cold man and I bet you are one of those demanding types who come into hospitals, expecting to be treated royally because you have an insurance card. In the past, I disliked patients like you. The type who sit with your little magazines in the waiting room, turning up your nose, when a homeless person enters. The type who writes long letters to the hospital president just because a life saving procedure on the patient before you, caused your appointment to run late. grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

  • Richard Aubrey

    WRT rights.
    There are negative rights and positive rights. Negative rights are, for example, in the Bill of Rights. They tell us what the government may not do to us.
    Positive rights are different. Without exception, they require the government to do something for us (which is what makes them “positive”), which inevitably requires the government to take the resources to do so from somebody else.
    So they are different from things like RKBA and free speech.

    Also, individual insurance is available. If you have a problem affording it, that’s different from implying there is no solution other than employer-sponsored benefits.
    Each state is required to have an insurer of last resort which will take individuals regardless of existing conditions.

    • for many people, there IS no other option. They can’t afford private insurance yet may not qualify for the last resort insurance or that last resort insurance may not cover their needs.

      So what you’re saying here is that those who cannot afford private insurance just have to suck it up and suffer because they’re not poor enough to qualify for medicaid (which is run by the gov, correct?) and not rich enough to pay huge insurance costs? If that’s your position, fine, but if so: you’re a jerk. Thanks.

    • Magnetic Crow

      Huh, funny. Neither my husband nor I have employer-provided insurance, nor are we likely to ever be offered a job where we will, given our field of work. We’re making just barely enough to pay rent (even with a roommate), pay our bills, not starve, and sometimes pay our student loans (when we’re lucky).
      Neither of us qualifies for state sponsored health insurance as it currently exists.
      Plus I have a minor (thankfully not life-threatening, though it could lead to life-threatening things if untreated) preexisting condition that could potentially get me disqualified from private insurance, if I could afford it.

      And what options did you say we had again?

      (Other than going back to college and learning an entirely new set of job skills, accruing even more debt in the process and decimating our shared income (and furthermore being perpetually miserable in our new careers). Or purposefully decimating our income to the point where we qualify for state sponsored medical insurance).

  • Richard Aubrey

    Actually, Angry, I’m not saying anything of the sort.
    I am saying that implying that there is no option but employer-sponsored coverage is incorrect.
    You don’t need to “qualify” for the insurer of last resort;it’s not Medicaid. In some states, it’s Blue Cross. You just apply. They are not allowed to turn you down. In our state, BC has a selection of contracts with varying premiums.
    Most individual plans have maximums of two million and up to five million.
    Since the positive right–in your construction it’s health coverage–requires inevitably that the resources to do it be taken from others, it would be more direct to insist the government have the power to take money from other people to solve your problem. Which is, fundamentally, what you are demanding.

    • LDR

      “You don’t need to “qualify” for the insurer of last resort . . . You just apply. They are not allowed to turn you down.”

      So, Richard, if it’s that easy, why are so many, many people complaining about their lack of healthcare?

    • I’m not entirely sure you’re correct about every state having an insurer that can’t turn you down, but if you provide evidence of such, that will be helpful. That still doesn’t solve the problem of: what if I can’t afford this insurance? Will the coverage an individual needs in order to manage their chronic/life-threatening illness cost more than they can afford to pay? Not “Oh gosh, if I get this insurance I won’t be able to keep my polo pony!” It’s “If I pay this monthly premium I will not have enough left over to eat, or pay my rent, or pay my bills, or a combination thereof.” Perhaps you can afford the insurance you’re insisting everyone can have, but not everyone can, which has been the point all along.

      Also, you act as if the rights we as citizens have now don’t take away money from other people. I explained this upthread, but I will try again: my taxes pay for several hundred things that I do not directly benefit from, as do yours. In having this health care system, the government is not going to take your money and then say “you can’t have this, only these people can.” Isn’t the whole point of this is that it’s universal?

      If you’re going to complain about the government taking your money to solve other people’s problems, then I think you’re going to have to first dismantle the justice system, which uses government money to give lawyers to people who can’t afford them, and health care to convicted offenders (and food, and shelter… hey wait!). Let’s get rid of roads, while we’re at it. Why should I have to pay for other people’s need to get from one state to another? Not my problem!

      Unless you’re ready to pay for every service and convenience that taxes pay for yourself, I suggest you rethink your position on health care. Because all of your objections just come off as selfish and self-serving, which is fine if that’s what you want to be. But you can’t be that way while also taking or using what millions of others paid for with their tax dollars.

  • Not heard much from Richard Aubrey since you asked him to substantiate his claim that everyone could have insurance if they wanted it.