My son isn’t one of the millions of Americans getting by without health insurance. In fact, he had medical insurance when he needed it. But because he is my son, I’ve spent no small amount of time wondering, “What if?”
He is 22 years old, 30 hours from a bachelor of arts degree in English, healthy – and a working musician. He plays in a band of notable fame in its genre, and he really does receive some noticeable money doing it.
But the pay is not steady. And there are no benefits beyond expense-paid trips to Europe, venues that provide gourmet food and free drinks, and rooms full of wildly happy fans.
Yes, he’s living the dream.
But if his parents couldn’t afford to fund a private health insurance policy for him, he might be living that dream with one less foot. Or one less leg. Or if you’ll allow me a dramatic mother moment, not living at all.
On a Sunday evening last February, he returned to his apartment after work, kicked his shoes off at the door, greeted friends who were gathered for dinner and hurried down the carpeted hallway to his bedroom to change clothes.
Before he reached the bedroom door, his bare foot found a 2-inch sewing needle. The force of his step drove the needle completely into the arch of his foot. You could see where it was only because the very end of the needle was trying to push through the skin of the bottom of his foot from the inside.
The group gathered sprang into action. Tweezers, razor blades and pain pills were pondered. My son’s roommate thought the needle could be pulled out if they could slice through the skin where the thing was trying to protrude.
Thankfully, before any field surgery was performed, someone asked my son if he had health insurance. When he said yes, everyone breathed a sigh of relief and agreed, “Time to go to the hospital.”
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An x-ray showed the needle was lodged in one of the peroneal tendons. Ouch.
Oh, and the needle was broken.
Emergency room nurses hooked my son up to an IV antibiotic and gave him a tetanus shot before the doctor came in to perform some emergency room surgery: Novocain, incision, tweezers, stitches, bandage. The cost was $4,000.
My son could not have paid that bill. Nor could he have paid the bill that might have resulted from his not seeking immediate medical attention. If that relatively minor emergency had gone very far into infection, it is likely that we would not have been able to afford the consequences, either.
According to the American Journal of Medicine, 62 percent of all bankruptcies in this country are the sad result of medical debts. Most of these debtors are well-educated, own homes and have middle-class occupations. They are people accustomed to paying their way and they intend to do all they can to pay their way through a medical crisis.
But really, who can do that without health insurance?
People you know are neglecting medical problems because they think they cannot afford to pay the bill. I guarantee it. Some of them will get very sick before they see a doctor, which likely means they will have to see a doctor in an emergency room.
Some of them will die.
This is not an Obama issue. It is not a Democrats-in-charge issue. It is a national crisis.
We are the only industrialized nation in the world without publicly financed health insurance. The fight against cash-coated insurance lobbies for the right to accessible medical care is as old as I am. Read this article at the Physicians for National Healthcare site. The sad part is that it was posted five years ago.
Jan Chapman is a former broadcast journalist, a storyteller and a blogger. She is a member of Church of the Savior, a UCC congregation with Baptist roots in Austin, Texas. She blogs at Thinking in Peaces.