I remember when I broke my arm as a child. Almost as soon as it happened, my mother heard my cries, swept me up in her arms, and spirited me away to the hospital.
I never thought twice about the economic or political implications of my accident. All I knew was that I hurt myself and my mother was taking me to the hospital to be fixed. My experience at the hospital is a little hazier in my memory than the actual accident and the trip, but I remember all the attention I received, both medical and personal.
It was only years later, when I learned about health insurance, did I realize that what for me was a childhood injury covered by my parent’s policy could be for many people the tragic event that puts them into debt from which they will never get out because of the complete lack of universal healthcare.
The healthcare system in the United States is the subject of much criticism and much praise. While many push for a universal healthcare system that grants medical care to all those that need it, others claim that the country provides the best care in the world and universalizing it will diminish the quality of care it provides.
While it is impossible to say that either camp is correct, it is apparent that there are many dysfunctions within the U.S. healthcare system, despite the many promises of politicians and corporations and the status of the United States as one of the richest countries in the industrialized world.
Now that my arm has long healed and I have managed to stay relatively health for the past decade, I have a greater understanding of how health insurance works. I understand that medical expenses can be incredibly high, such as ten-thousand dollars for an MRI to explain why my back hurts sometimes or even two-hundred dollars to fill the prescription the doctor gave me to prevent that horrible rash from returning.
I am now forced to pay a significant amount of my hard earned money every week to pay for my current health insurance policy, which I barely use and hope not to use in the near or distant future.
However, I am lucky to be able to afford health insurance, not because I necessarily work harder or deserve it more, but because I am fortunate enough to be from a good family who provided me with a lot of opportunities and a good education. My friend Alyssa, however, is not as fortunate as me and currently does not have health insurance.
Alyssa and I have been good friends for a long time, share similar backgrounds, but her economic education has been far more difficult than mine. Alyssa got into a bad car accident when she first got to college, and at the time, she had no health insurance. Requiring serious surgery to fix her spine and a lengthy rehabilitation, Alyssa was forced to incur hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical expenses, forced to pay full price for procedures of which insurance companies pay only a fraction.
Alyssa’s story made me realize what a giant scam health insurance seems to be in the United States, as the same procedure to a private citizen without insurance is considerably more than to those with insurance.
And, the sad thing is that there are so many little rules and regulations that even make people with insurance in essence a slave to whatever their insurance company dictates, as in which doctor to see or what hospital they can go to, or even what life-saving drugs would be covered in the policy.
And, even worse than everything else, is that some people pay for insurance faithfully, only to finally need it and have what they need denied by their insurance company. When I think of the unapologetically brash way insurance companies seem to play with the lives of their customers, it almost makes me want to cancel my health insurance. Then, I remember Alyssa who will be in debt indefinitely because of her lack of health insurance, as well as the continuous threat of injury and disease.
So, I reluctantly put my payment in the mail each month and hope against hope that I never have to use my insurance, always that I am merely contributing to an unfortunately flawed system that relies on fear and abuses power to perpetuate itself; sometimes, the healthcare dysfunctions make me even question the values of the United States itself, even as I listen to politicians promise reform.
The most obvious dysfunction of the United States healthcare system is that not all Americans are entitled to its benefits. Like my friend, Alyssa, nearly 45 million Americans, including 9 million children, lack health insurance (Obama).
Because the healthcare system is largely controlled by the for-profit insurance companies, this leaves a great deal of people without any means of medical care at all. In the event of emergencies, without health insurance or the money to pay for care, people are often forced to make difficult decisions, either going deep into debt or going without treatment.
There are many ways to ensure that all citizens are covered, including lower costs, guaranteed eligibility, comprehensive benefits, and better efficiency. Two of the main reasons for such an expensive and poorly efficient healthcare system are the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Not only are they increasing prices for individuals covered in their plans, but they are also making it difficult for doctors to receive coverage.
According to a 2003 U.S. Department of Health & Human Services report: “More doctors, hospitals and nursing homes in more states are facing increasing difficulty in obtaining insurance against lawsuits, and as a result more patients in more states are facing greater difficulty in obtaining access to doctors” (“New HHS Report”).
This makes it more difficult for those like me with healthcare to receive quality care, while it sometimes remains impossible for those without insurance like Alyssa to get treated, even in emergencies. The bureaucracy is more important than the individual to these insurance companies, leaving even those with insurance sick and tired.