The question on Quora was “didn’t a majority of Americans have medical coverage before Obamacare”?
I thought about the answer. This is one of those issues in which I had — still have — a gigantic personal stake. I’m one of those people who would never get insurance without laws forcing them to give it to me. Maybe a majority of working adults had medical coverage, but among those who were not — for whatever reason — working, mostly, they had nothing. This includes disabled people, old people, people injured and unable to return to work. And, of course, children.
We were among the group who no longer had medical insurance, although we’d had it before.
I was desperately ill. Massachusetts had not gotten its own medical care system yet and the U.S. had nothing, the situation to which it seems we will shortly return. I could be fixed, but no one would help me because I didn’t have insurance. I went from not well, to sicker, then even sicker. One day, I realized I was dying. For real. I was beyond sick. I felt as if the air was blowing through me and I was disappearing.
Someone told me about a doctor in Boston who might be interested. He was interested, but I had no insurance and no money. When it suddenly occurred to me that I really was dying, no kidding, I called the doctor. I said I was dying. He told me to come to the emergency room and he would take care of the rest. They took me in. I spent three weeks with a vitamin drip in my jugular vein trying to get me physically able for surgery. Then, he invented a surgery to fix me. It had never been done before and he warned me it might not work. I pointed out I had nothing to lose because I was going to die otherwise.
Anyway, after the surgery, my abdomen went septic and he had to call in the plastic surgery swat team. They performed another surgery, cutting out all the rotting skin on my abdomen and leaving me with a scar that looks like I was partially eaten by a shark. But I got better and a couple of weeks later, I went home. I only weighed 90 pounds and was warned that no matter how difficult it was, I had to eat. I needed to get back up to about 130 pounds. Which I did.
The hospital took care of the bill. I never paid for anything. Miracle number one.
Eventually I got Medicare — after finally getting disability. The process took almost four years. In between, I got cancer in both breasts and was fed a lot of poison and … then …
My heart failed. A lot of surgeries, later, I got more leases on life — and the hospital ate any expenses not covered by Medicare. They knew I couldn’t pay it. It is one of the things about dealing with large hospitals — they can manage catastrophes like me.
In the course of this period, Massachusetts got its own healthcare program and then there was Obamacare. By that time, I was already on Medicare.
I am alive. That I’m still breathing is amazing. This is just a brief overview — but before there was health care, if you weren’t absurdly lucky and just happened to have a brilliant doctor and a few top quality hospitals to lend you a hand, you would be dead. I could as easily be long gone by now.
Not having real health insurance is not politics: it is life or death.
It has nothing to do with how you vote. And as a reminder, the dead do not vote.
How did this stuff happen? How did we go from being good earners with high incomes to not having medical insurance and watching me slip from life to death?
I’m glad you asked.
I became too sick to work. My earlier job had fallen to bankruptcy. I was too ill to find new work. My husband had also stopped working. We had no money, no insurance, and I was dying. It is amazing how quickly a life can fall apart. It takes surprisingly little and ill-health is often where it begins. We thought we had enough — or soon would have enough — but when you are sick and uninsured, whatever money you put away disappears.
This is a “life accident.” You work. You’re doing fine. Your company goes bankrupt and you are not eligible for COBRA — assuming COBRA even exists. Some people lose jobs because they got old, or the company decides they will do better with younger, cheaper help. If you have a union, you might (at least) get some kind of payment to go with your pink slip. If not, you’re just old and unemployed and very unlikely to find equivalent — or any — employment. Because there aren’t that many companies looking to hire mature workers.
Your health insurance — assuming you had it — leaves when you leave and if your mate is part of your insurance, both of you are now without insurance. Sure, there are emergency rooms, but an ER won’t cure your cancer or repair your heart. If you have cancer and you do not have insurance, you are dead. Emergency rooms don’t take care of long-term illness. They might fix your broken leg — and send you the bill — but if you’ve got breast cancer? You’re done.
What kind of country are we building? What kind of world will this be if we have stripped the last hint of human kindness from our culture? What is wrong with compassion — even if it costs a little more? To me, this isn’t political. It’s humanity. It’s caring for others, including those you’ve never met.
That’s what compassion is.