by Matt Royer
One thing has always rung true to me: it takes a real-life, firsthand experience for a person to truly understand the gravity of a situation. For instance, I have always been a proponent for universal healthcare or Medicare for All as policies, but I never understood how severe the issue was in our healthcare system until I (recently) was forced into a serious situation myself.
Earlier this year, I had woken up one morning with a little bit of back pain on my right side. I have been an athlete all my life. I swam competitively for 15 years until I was 18 and played rugby for 8 years from high school through college. I have been used to the normal pulled muscle, but waking up with chills raised a flag for me. So I went to urgent care, no co-pay luckily through my employer-covered healthcare. The doctor gave me some pain killers and sent me on my way. What I would later find out was that this was a band-aid over a bullet hole.
About four days later, I had been going through my routines with slight discomfort – but hey, this was one of those “walk it off, grin and bear it” type injuries, right? Until I was sitting at my desk at work, when it felt as though something imploded in the entire right side of my torso. Something was clearly wrong, and me being the good worker bee that I am, I excused myself for the day and said I would get back online, just had to go get this checked out. Did I call an ambulance? No, that would have been a $600 charge easy. Did I want to go to the nearest hospital in DC? No, there was the possible chance that it was out of my network and I wouldn’t be covered and then need to get transferred before being treated. So what did I do? I called an Uber to drive me from DC to an urgent care facility in my network (a solid 30-minute drive). Well I made it about halfway when the pain and shortness of breath set in that I had to get to the ER right away. There comes a time when a need for something overcomes all financial barriers. This was the moment for me.
I was transported to the nearest ER, was given the care I needed to get me through the next few hours and get stabilized, given pain management, and a diagnosis. What the doctors found in my x-rays was that I had a buildup of fluid in my lungs due to pneumonia that had caused me to go into respiratory arrest. Had I pushed through the rest of that car ride to another Urgent Care facility. I might not have made it. I might have died to save money. Through my bouts of pain and spasms, there was only one other thought in my mind other than surviving: was this going to be covered and how much was it going to cost me if it wasn’t?
I was incapacitated, deathly ill and the only thing I could think about was the cost.
Now luckily, I have employer-covered health insurance, and it’s something that I am extremely grateful for from the company that I work for and something I know that I am very privileged to have. So fortunately, I was able to stay in the hospital for 12 days while a team of doctors and nurses gave me around-the-clock care, being extremely attentive to anything that was happening. As a result, I have been able to recover to almost 100% very quickly. I am so very grateful to each and every one of those hardworking individuals and owe it to them that I am still here today. And let’s be clear here: our doctors, our nurse practitioners, our nurses, and all of our healthcare state staff are not the issue or the ones at fault here. It is the systems in which they are operating.
Because the fact of the matter is that there are 27 million people out there who do not have that same privilege and are not insured. In addition to that, about 45 million people are underinsured. I was able to breathe – literally and figuratively – a sigh of relief when I found that the hospital I was in was covered. However, these millions of people do not have that same luxury.
No one chooses to go to the Emergency Room, no one plans to get sick. I didn’t choose to go to the hospital and elect to get two different surgeries to correct my illness because I felt like it. I did it because my life depended on it. So why is that we continue to allow our insurance industry and healthcare system to charge people like they are taking a vacation? If I had not been insured, I estimate that it would have cost me $120,000 just to be there, not for any of the medicine or the procedures that I had to go through.
That’s $120,000 to stay in a hospital room for 12 days so that I could make sure that I was going to live, not $120,000 at some luxury resort for 12 days in the islands (although there are apparently bananas that are worth that exact same amount I’m told). People are bankrupted everyday, over situations that they cannot control, all because they do not have access or cannot afford quality care because we treat these things like they are luxuries when they really should be necessities.
I was also fortunate that I live in an area where medical care is easily accessible, since a good fraction of those cases of people who are uninsured and even those who are insured, live in rural areas where the nearest medical facility, let alone hospital, is hours away. Why? Because it has become less profitable for healthcare and medical networks to place clinics in these rural areas.
And that’s what this all comes down to: profits. How do you make the most money off of systems that people’s lives quite literally depend on? Now, at a time of global pandemic, we are seeing this price gouging and profiteering continue to occur when it could have so easily been headed off.
It isn’t profitable to insure people who are already sick – so they don’t. It isn’t profitable to put facilities in low populated areas – so they don’t. It isn’t profitable to give preventable medicine and care to people who cannot afford it – so they don’t. It isn’t profitable to adjust the price of those medicines, those procedures, and those facilities regardless of need for lower-income communities – so they don’t.
In a just society, our fellow human’s well being should always be above the amount of money you can make. Period. End of discussion. That is why Medicare for All isn’t some radical idea. It’s treating human beings as human beings and not dollar signs. Preventative medicine and quality healthcare is a right and not a privilege. Enshrined in our founding documents, it says that we as a nation, every one of us is entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So shouldn’t it be on us as a society to help protect those very same lives by giving everyone the ability to ensure their own health? If the events that have unfolded this year have told us anything, it is that we are only as safe as the most uninsured person in America. So why on Earth would we continue to put everyone at risk just because a few don’t want to pay for the care of others? Taxpayers pay for a lot of services regardless of whether they use them or not: public schools, public transportation, public assistance, among other public programs. So why is it such a hurdle to get over?
It’s time that we take a look in the mirror and realize what needs to be done and fund healthcare for all Americans. There are many approaches to how we pay for it, but the best way to sum that up would be minimally increasing taxes to offset the costs that everyone would pay for premiums every month, and if you look at those costs side by side, the tax increase could actually be less money to pay than monthly premiums and medical costs for hospital stays, drug costs, etc over time. There are many plans out there to approach this subject, but what we all can agree on is that every single person, no matter who they are, has the right to access affordable, high-quality care and we should be able to fund that one way or another. Because let’s be real, if you can find $15 billion to establish a Space Force that hasn’t been deemed 100% necessary, you can find money for the health and well being of the general public.
We as a nation cannot afford in our wallets and in our health to continue on with business as usual. We cannot allow corporations, insurance companies, medical tool suppliers, and pharmaceutical companies to continue profiting from the health of our citizens. It is time for universal healthcare in America.