sick over sicko

when we first moved here six months ago, we attempted to apply for health insurance for our then 18-month old son. he needed to be seen for a checkup, and we wanted him to continue his vaccination schedule. since my fellowship only covered my health insurance, and my husband was looking for a job, we needed to apply for private insurance. we applied, and were denied.

my son, back in february, was treated and hospitalized for a condition known as ITP. basically his platelets were dangerously low, meaning that small bumps ended up in huge bruises, and he has spontaneous bruising over his entire body. in over 80% of kids, this happens after having a virus, like a cold, and it happens once and never happens again. since february, WA has been a-okay. but due to this “pre-existing condition” he was denied health coverage. we were forced to purchase a “major risk” plan sponsored by the state that cost more than twice what the individual private insurance would have cost. the plan didn’t start until 3 months after we’d been here; my son had a few really high fevers but i couldn’t take him to a doctor because i was afraid they would turn us away. i had to push back his well-child visit due to not having any insurance.

while this was only the case for two months until my husband started working, that debt is just one of the many we are still attempting to work our way out of. even now that we have insurance, we have $1000 in medical bills that needs to be paid – a combination of co-insurances for the children’s vaccinations and the bill for having the baby in a hospital. for a graduate student and a university employee, that amount is not chump change.

so given our financial situation, we don’t often get to the movies. we recently rented three movies, one of which was michael moore’s sicko. now i know to take much of what michael moore says with a grain of salt – it’s not extremely scientific and he obviously has an agenda. but given my own experiences, i was thoroughly disgusted by what i saw. for people to be thrown out of hospitals, or children to be denied life-savings treatment due to being out of the network, or 9/11 volunteers to be denied because they are not official government employees is simply shameful. not just on the part of the government, but by all of us. we should be ashamed of ourselves.

i realize that the rosy picture painted by moore of france, the uk, cuba and canada is just that – rosy – but i have to believe there is something to universal health care that we as a society should seriously consider. two things struck me about the movie. one was about how the uk came to offer universal health care after wwii. a man (i can’t remember who he was) said that the people decided that if you could find money to kill people, then you could find money to help people. what? say it again – if you could find money to kill people, then you could find money to help people. as simple as it sounds, it’s damn near revolutionary.

the second thing that struck me was about solidarity; namely those countries with greater solidarity amongst all people are more likely to support universal health care. we live in such an individualistic society; we are taught that success takes hard work, those who are successful are so because they worked hard, and logically those who are not successful deserve their fate because they did not work hard. this individualistic dogma is in everything we do and are as a people – even down to the value we place on people being able to care for themselves when they are sick from things we all could get – cancer, asthma, depression. how else can we explain that there are americans who get cancer who cannot be treated because they are uninsured or, like many, underinsured? what kind of people are we that will allow someone to die because they don’t have money to treat an illness through no fault of their own?

after watching this today, this issue is something i feel i cannot turn my back on. i joked with my husband about wanting to move to france, and while a part of me was dead serious, i also feel like i need to do something here. [btw france is great not just due to the health care, but also its family friendliness, esp. paid time off for maternity leave, which is NOT guaranteed here.] i’m not sure which angle to take; WAC thinks raising money to lobby is the way to go, while i think it’s more fundamentally about getting people to vote for candidates who will make universal health care a reality. [does any one know how obama lands on this issue?] whatever it is, i just feel like i have to do something – the ability to care for one’s body just seems so basic, even more than personal safety or education. a woman in the movie lost her child – of course, the child may have still died even if the first hospital she was taken to did not deny to treat her, but her mother will never know. she will never know.

3 thoughts on “sick over sicko

  1. true – the uk health system isn’t all rosy – it’s horribly overstretched and underfunded, you can wait 18 months for something as urgent as a heart bypass, hospitals are dirty, and you’re herded around like sheep… but it’s comforting to know that if i step out the house and get hit by a car, or get struck down with some horrible disease, that i won’t wake up in hospital panicking about how i’m going to pay for it. and if i needed a routine operation i still have the option of saving up and going private to skip the wait (although clearly that’s not an option for everyone). i have health insurance in the US but it still scares the crap out of me that i don’t know what i’m liable for and whether i’d be able to pay for it. wishing y’all health as well as happiness!

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  2. Hmmm. I hate to say this in a public forum, but sometimes those health bills have to come last. Maybe try to arrange a reasonable monthly payment or just start sending them $10-20 a month or whatever you can afford. This lets them know you haven’t forgotten and may help keep those bills off of your credit report. But when it comes right down to it, they may have to wait until you can afford to pay.

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  3. char – i think a lot of americans don’t appreciate the comfort of knowing that even if you have to wait, it will be free. personally, i’d wait for a lot of things – new clothes, a haircut, even a college degree – if i knew it would be free. and combined with better policies on sick days and the insane number of vacation days europeans get, it all seems to balance out.

    twinmommy – you are absolutely correct. i’ll be calling everyone next week to arrange a payment plan 😦

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