Thoughts on health care, part II

By Nicola Pearson
(posted 3.1.11)

If you’re not compelled by how much cheaper it might be to have a national health service in this country, then consider the following: As a masters degree student in economics, I learned in my economic development class that the definition of a developed nation is “literacy and health care for all.”

The United States of America is, quite possibly, the greatest developed nation in the world and yet we have … well, neither. Our low rankings on developed nations’ test score charts tell us what it means not to have literacy, but what does it mean to our country not to have health care for all?

First, it means people die. Unnecessarily. And I’m not talking about the uninsured; I’m talking about people with insurance who can’t get their private carriers to cover what it is they need for them to keep living. We’ve all heard the stories: A child with a fever of 104 who is obliged to be taken from one hospital to another because her parent’s health insurance will not cover procedures at the first, and the child dies en route. Or, the man with a progressive infection who is sent home from the hospital because his insurance company declares they will no longer pay for his treatment, and he goes home and dies. Or, the people who die from eminently treatable illnesses because their insurance won’t cover the right medication.

Where do we live again? Did you say the United States of America? We live in a land of plenty, in a country whose Declaration of Independence is built on the truth that “all men are created equal” and, as such, have the unalienable right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Life. Not, “life if you have the right health insurance.” How can we let this happen?

Second, not having “health care for all” means that there are many people in this country, millions probably, who do not go and see doctors when they need to because they do not have good health insurance. I know, because I’m one of them. And, of course, I’m terrified that I might need more than just a doctor’s visit one day. I have visions of being taken to the emergency room and telling then to patch me up the cheapest way possible. I’ll sign whatever release they want, just don’t bankrupt my family.

What’s it going to take for us to see that this money-over-health kind of decision is wrong? Particularly in a country that can afford to put health first. Do we have to wait until people are segregated in the ER according to their insurance coverage?

“Okay, take this one to the curtain with restraints and duct tape; she has catastrophic coverage only, so no pain meds.”

Given that the United States is not a third-world country, shouldn’t it be a point of pride for us to have a health care system that is available to everyone, no matter what their income? And, since this is actually the No. 1 developed nation in the world, shouldn’t we want the “best” health care for everyone? So why don’t we just demand that?

According to Tony Benn, a former cabinet minister in England, people who are shackled by debt live in fear, people who live in fear are oppressed, and oppressed people won’t rise up against the government (as quoted in “Sicko” by Michael Moore).

If that’s true, then not having “health care for all” means something very sad for the state of democracy in this great land of ours. It also means that even though we have the right to bear arms, we won’t use them, as proponents of this right claim, to protect our homes against a threat because in this country the threat comes from those who hold our health in their hands. And they already have our homes.

When my family’s health insurance premiums went up again this year while our coverage decreased, I decided to shop around for a better deal. This is, after all, a free-market economy, one of the arguments some people use against having a national health service in the U.S. Shopping around was not an option for me, however, when it came to health insurance. Not because there weren’t other companies out there, not because their prices weren’t a viable alternative to our current policy, but because we have a 15-year-old daughter. The health insurance companies in the State of Washington are refusing to sign any new policies for insureds under 19 because they cannot check for preexisting conditions.

This is the greatest developed nation in the world and we allow health insurance companies to refuse to cover our children?

Shame on us. Shame. On. Us.

Nicola Pearson is an award-winning playwright from Sauk City. This is the second in a three-part commentary.

Read part I

Read part III

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