On a pandagon thread about socialized medicine, a commenter called Catty writes, “I know 2 die-hard libertarians that are now universal health care supporters. Funny how problems like multiple sclerosis and cancer can change people’s minds.”
I have always supported universal health care, but jesus fuck she’s right.
A couple weeks ago, I started having some strange symptoms. Last week, I went to the ER to speak to a physician, and she said the things I didn’t want to hear — namely, that my symptoms were consonant with two bad diagnoses: diabetic neuropathy and multiple sclerosis.
I have since been to my regular physician who is not nearly so concerned. I am still being checked for diabetes, but she’s holding off on the MRI to diagnose for multiple sclerosis for now. We’re first looking into other possible causes which are much more benign, such as hypothyroidism, advanced anemia, migraine, and anxiety.
I am an incredibly privileged woman. I’ve never been without health care. My health insurance is incredibly good. I pay $5 for doctor visits, and $5 for medications. I’ve always known that my health insurance was great, but I don’t think it’s ever really hit home for me how much uninsured people have to pay for their health care — not just going into debt, but going bankrupt, becoming homeless, and sometimes having to make the difficult decision to let themselves or their loved ones die from treatable illnesses.
Another commenter called Jodie relates the following story, “My 27 year old brother in law developed an intense headache on a Thursday, dx’d as brain tumor after an MRI, had surgery, went to intensive care, had chemo, and died prior to the next Thursday. Cost after insurance: $280,000 (at last count, I don’t think all the bills are in yet)… That bill was amassed in less than a week.”
Note: After insurance.
Other commenters discuss surgery for marrow transplants coming in at $250,000, refills for cancer drugs being in the thousands of dollars, a course of treatment for a major illness costing hundreds of thousands. Canadian commenters relate how relieved they are to live in Canada, after considering the ramifications of the major illnesses in their lives should they happen to have been American and uninsured. When a parent, a sibling, and another close relative are sick, often the whole family can’t find enough money to fund health care for all of them, even when they go into debt. They must choose bankruptcy or death.
Treatment for uninsured people is abominable. Uninsured people often have no choice but to obtain their health care through emergency room visits, which are phenomenally expensive. Pandagon commenters report paying $300-1,200 for emergency room visits, for things as routine as obtaining antibiotics for a bladder infection. One commenter notes that his $320 physical meant that he had to put off paying his bills for a month.
Facing debt, uninsured people often put off going to the doctor until their dieases have progressed beyond treatment. Worse, if they do go, they may be ignored. Pandagon recently reported incidents of uninsured people being left to die in hospital emergency rooms.
In the emergency room at Martin Luther King Jr.-Harbor Hospital, Edith Isabel Rodriguez was seen as a complainer.
“Thanks a lot, officers,” an emergency room nurse told Los Angeles County police who brought in Rodriguez early May 9 after finding her in front of the Willowbrook hospital yelling for help. “This is her third time here.”
The 43-year-old mother of three had been released from the emergency room hours earlier, her third visit in three days for abdominal pain. She’d been given prescription medication and a doctor’s appointment.
Turning to Rodriguez, the nurse said, “You have already been seen, and there is nothing we can do,” according to a report by the county office of public safety, which provides security at the hospital.
Parked in the emergency room lobby in a wheelchair after police left, she fell to the floor. She lay on the linoleum, writhing in pain, for 45 minutes, as staffers worked at their desks and numerous patients looked on.
Aside from one patient who briefly checked on her condition, no one helped her. A janitor cleaned the floor around her as if she were a piece of furniture. A closed-circuit camera captured everyone’s apparent indifference.
Arriving to find Rodriguez on the floor, her boyfriend unsuccessfully tried to enlist help from the medical staff and county police — even a 911 dispatcher, who balked at sending rescuers to a hospital.
Alerted to the “disturbance” in the lobby, police stepped in — by running Rodriguez’s record. They found an outstanding warrant and prepared to take her to jail. She died before she could be put into a squad car.
At the same hospital, in 2003, “20-year-old Oluchi Oliver waited hours to be admitted to the hospital with crippling stomach pains, according to his family. After 10 hours, he collapsed dead on the floor. No one noticed, his father, Akilah Oliver, said.”
I had a brief hiccup with my insurance coverage the day I decided to go into the ER, and it looked like I might not be covered at all. (Now, I’m covered by two health care plans.) I almost didn’t go in. My mother told me I had to go in, that they’d find a way to fund it if I were sick. We are extremely well-off for the United States, but I doubt that even we could find a way to pay $250,000 if I didn’t have insurance and needed a marrow transplant.
I’m watching my reactions as I read this Pandagon thread. I am so scared. I probably don’t have MS. I’m repeating this to myself as a mantra. My other mantra involves facts about MS. If I do have MS, I have all the indicators of a good prognosis. I am young, white, and female. If I do have MS, it’s extremely likely that I have the type that remits, instead of the type that progresses until you die. Hell, 15% of people who have MS never suffer a second attack.
And there are drugs! One of my fiance’s professors told him about two people she knows with MS, who were diagnosed in their thirties, and who now, in their fifties, have been kept symptom-free with drugs. I called one of my friends who is in medical school, and he told me to remember that both MS and diabetic neuropathy require lifestyle changes, but may not affect life quality.
Even in the worst case scenario, I’ll be okay. That’s not enough to keep me from worrying or being depressed, but it’s good news. Nevertheless, I’m a basket case as I wait for my blood test results.
I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if I didn’t know how I was going to pay for the medical expenses of my doctor visits, my blood tests, my MRIs, my visits with the neurologist and/or dietician. Without insurance, would I be able to afford those drugs that could keep the multiple sclerosis in check, preventing me from losing the use of my limbs, my speech, and my brain?
I don’t understand how anyone can oppose universal health care. A libertarian in that thread is spouting off strange talking points. Some are demonstrably false. Countries with socialized health care do not have more bureacracy than we do; they have less, because hospitals don’t have to deal with insurance claims. They don’t have longer wait times than we do. They don’t force patients into predetermined courses of treatment. The cost in taxes is more, but studies have shown that while taxes are higher in many countries with socialized medicine, the American middle class ends up screwed with their lower tax rate — because we have pay not only our taxes, but we also have to pay through the nose to privately fund things that countries like Sweden provide for free. We end up paying a huge amount more, just so we can claim that we have lower taxes.
One of his talking points is that he doesn’t feel he should be forced to help people who are less fortunate. Does he understand that he’s talking about people who will die without his help? Help that he will benefit from, because he as a middle class American would pay less if taxes were higher but provided more services? Someday, he may have a medical emergency, and god forbid he should be denied his insurance. He may bankrupt himself and his whole family. If he chooses to finish treatment, he might lose his home. We might force him, as we force others, to choose between the basic necessity of shelter, and death.
Meanwhile, he can’t even imagine those scenarios. Over and over again, he talks about the undue burden that would be placed on him if he had to help other people. He can’t imagine himself in their shoes. If he can imagine their pain, he doesn’t care. What a strange, frightening lack of empathy. What a limited view of the world.
My empathy is heightened right now, because of course this medical issue has me sensitized to issues of my own mortality. It’s odd to move from the life in which I thought of myself as healthy, to the life a few days later when I realize that I could have a progressive and debilitating illness.
I don’t want to be going through this. I want to feel safe and well again. Hopefully, my diagnosis will be benign, and soon I will be feeling safe and well again. Even if I have MS, I am sure that eventually my sense of weakness, fear and vulnerability would dull, and my illness would become just another part of my life. That’s another thing I’ve been repeating to myself for the past couple weeks. Studies show that paraplegics are just as happy one year after their injury as they were before it occured. People are amazingly adaptive; anything can become ordinary. If they are equally happy after that, then I will surely be equally happy even if my diagnosis is MS.
I am so amazingly lucky to be worrying only about my health. If I were worried that I was about to bankrupt my loved ones, and that I wouldn’t be able to afford life-saving care, this painful experience would become a constant waking nightmare. Any person who would wish that on other people is both monstrous and lacking in empathy.