There’s a famous joke some economists use to describe the difference between a recession and a depression. “A recession is when your neighbor’s out of work; a depression is when you’re out of work.”
As I mentioned in my last piece, when it comes to empathy, most Americans are found wanting. We may pity our neighbor’s bad fortune, but that’s as far as it goes. To know what’s it’s like to not be able to pay your bills, to have your home foreclosed on or to have an eviction notice served on you because you lost your job and you don’t have the money to pay the mortgage or rent is a feeling a majority of Americans will thankfully never experience. But for those who have gone through such an ordeal, it can be devastating.
The cost of healthcare in this country is staggering. And while most Americans are fortunate enough to have either employer or private-based insurance to pay their medical expenses, there are millions who are working without a net. For them, the choice often comes down to staying alive and going bankrupt or slowly dying from a curable disease.
I want to make perfectly clear that I am not a fan of the Medicare for All proposal that many progressives are in favor of and that many of the Democratic presidential candidates are running on. First of all, it’s politically Dead-on-Arrival in the Senate. Consider that in 2009, Democrats held 60 seats, yet couldn’t even get a public option out of committee. At best, they’ll be lucky if they end up with 51 or 52 seats in 2021.
Secondly, despite what Bernie Sanders keeps insisting, there’s still no way of knowing what effect switching over to a single payer system would have on the current health-care industry. Hospitals, which already face an incredible financial burden, could potentially suffer catastrophic failures, which could jeopardize the lives of millions of people. Then there’s the matter of supplemental insurance that even those on Medicare have to pay in order to deal with those medical expenses that the entitlement doesn’t cover.
That being said, a lot of Americans face a health-care crisis every single day. I was not personally aware of how bad until just this year. Beginning around New Years, I developed a serious medical condition that required treatment. I was passing blood in my urine and went to the hospital. A CT scan showed a mass in my bladder.
In late January, I underwent a procedure to remove what was referred to as a polyp. After the procedure, the doctor informed me that he did not think he removed all of the mass. I was referred to a specialist who recommended a more evasive surgical procedure, which I underwent on April 1. I spent four days in the hospital and another three weeks at home recovering. The operation, according to the surgeon, was successful. Though the biopsy was revealed to be malignant, it was not present in the lymph nodes. I returned to work on May 1.
Five weeks later, while vacationing with my wife in Baltimore, I developed pain in my left leg. Over the next few days it grew more intense. After I returned home I found I could barely walk. I checked myself into the hospital where another CT scan showed a cyst in my groin area which was touching a nerve ending that was causing the pain in my leg. I spent the next five days in the hospital while the doctors came up with a prognosis for treating the infection.
They elected against surgery and instead put me on strong antibiotics. A PICC line was inserted in my left arm to administer the drugs, which had to be taken every evening. For those who have never had a PICC line inserted, I can assure you it is not an experience you want to go through. Over the next three weeks, I would come home from work and inject the medication through the IV. Afterwards, I crashed. The antibiotics were very strong and often made me fatigued.
Finally on July 10, I had the PICC line removed. My doctor, just as a precaution, had me take a follow up CT scan to ensure that the cyst was completely gone. The good news is that it was; the bad news is that the scan revealed a mass in my left lung. The doctor advised me to get to the hospital immediately, which I did. There they performed an arterial CT scan to get a better look at my lungs. There were several nodules present. You guessed it, I was admitted overnight while the doctors tried to figure out what was wrong with me.
After consulting with one another, they came to the conclusion that the cause of my latest malady was due to a reaction to the antibiotics I was on. I was put on prednisone for the next two weeks and I scheduled a follow-up visit with a Pulmonologist. As of this writing I still don’t know if I’m out of the woods. It’s possible this was just a reaction to the antibiotics; it’s also possible that I have lung cancer. I won’t know for at least another week.
What I do know is this: over the last seven and a half months, my medical problems have been quite expensive to treat. How expensive? Not counting a few ancillary visits to doctors, the total amount billed to my insurance company stands at over $150,000. $100,000 of that from the bladder surgery I had in April. Without insurance, my wife and I would’ve been on the hook for every penny of those expenses. With it, our out-of-pocket was just over $4,000.
I should point out that while bladder surgery is no minor deal – nor for that matter is being treated for a cyst – it pales in comparison to, say, a knee replacement, open heart surgery or any of a number of serious medical conditions. One of my bosses had a knee replacement and he spent ten days in the hospital. His tab was over a quarter of a million dollars, most of it covered by insurance. Can you imagine what open heart surgery would cost? I can’t even fathom it.
Now you know why people go broke in this country. Now you know why so many people are enamored of a single-payer system. Because you only need to get sick once to know first hand just how important having insurance is. That the supposedly greatest country on the face of the planet could allow even one of its citizens to be denied basic healthcare because they can’t afford it is an abomination.
Look, the Affordable Care Act was by no means a perfect law. It had several holes in it, not the least of which was its failure to control the primary drivers of medical costs, such as prescription drugs. For instance, the cost of Insulin has tripled over the last few years, making it almost impossible for some people to afford. As someone with a history of Diabetes in his family, this deeply concerns me. If I were to become a Diabetic, would I be able to afford to treat my disease? I hope so, but the fact is I don’t know.
And before you go bashing the insurance companies, which many people do, I would point out that of the $150,000 plus billed out by various hospitals, doctors and labs for my procedures, almost 80 percent was paid out by Blue Cross: my wife’s insurance carrier. I’m no apologist for a multi-billion dollar industry, but placing the blame solely on them isn’t going to fix the problem.
The fact is millions of people live with the sword of Damocles hanging over them. They are one accident, one injury or one illness away from financial ruin. My wife and I are both blessed because even without insurance, we still would’ve had the money to pay my medical bills. Sure, it would’ve wiped out virtually all our personal savings, including a money market, but we still would’ve kept our house and our 401k. But what about the families who live week to week who barely have enough money to cover next month’s rent? What do they do?
The problem as I see it comes down to perspective. Unless you’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, you can never know the personal hell that some of them go through when they don’t have the money to pay for medical treatment. It’s the old difference between a recession and a depression conundrum, only in this case the depression that ensues is literally destroying families and wreaking havoc on an economy which is already paying way too much for its healthcare.
Something’s gotta give. The United States is one of the few remaining industrialized countries that doesn’t guarantee at least access to affordable healthcare for its citizens. Whether you think its a right or a not, it is anathema for a God-fearing nation to permit such an injustice.