Fear in the Time of Pneumonia

February 19, 2008

So, it turns out my daughter has pneumonia.  It’s a fairly mild case — she’s at home rather than in a hospital.  But still, pneumonia is no trifle.

She and I spent the morning wading through various health care scenarios, and it got me thinking.  We started at the pediatrician’s office.  Then we had to go to the hospital for chest x-rays.  Then back to the pediatrician for prescriptions, and then finally on to the pharmacy for antibiotics.  We had to pay a $25.00 copay at the doctor’s office, and a $15.00 copay for the drugs.  The hospital cost us nothing out of pocket.  It wasn’t until we were at the CVS that I thought to ask what the cost would be if we didn’t have health insurance.  The pharmacist’s answer?  $156.00.  That’s just for the medicine.  An office visit to the pediatrician in our small, well-to-do town is surprisingly inexpensive — about $50.00.  But that’s twice what we paid.  And the visit to radiology at the local hospital?  Easily $350-400.

Imagine if you were one of the 47 million people in this country who don’t have health-care.  Imagine if you were one of those who can’t afford it, or who had it but then lost your job.  Imagine if you were a single parent and had to miss work in order to take your child to get medical attention that you couldn’t afford and didn’t know how to pay for.  Yes, I know:  if I had been in that position, I would have taken my child to the ER and she would have gotten the medical attention she needed.  But we all know that the worries don’t end there.  

Nancy and I have medical insurance, and we don’t really worry about losing it.  We’re lucky as hell.  And being so fortunate, I’d gladly pay a bit more in taxes every year if it meant that others would also have access to affordable health care.  Over the next nine months, we’re going to hear a lot about health care from the remaining presidential candidates.  And we’ll hear politicians and pundits on the right railing against “socialized medicine” and claiming that the only way to solve the nation’s health care crisis is to let the free market reign.  That’s a load of crap.  This country has followed the free market approach pretty much forever and we have 47 million people without health insurance.  The examples of “socialized medicine” that we do have in this country — Medicare and Medicaid — work pretty well.  More to the point, those right-wing politicians who are fortunate enough to serve in the U.S. Senate and House, including John McCain, don’t seem to mind having their insurance provided by the federal government.  

Once I was convinced that my daughter was getting the care she needed, and that she was going to be all right, I spent some time trying to imagine what it would be like to have to choose between getting my child healthy and paying my rent or buying groceries for the month.  I have a pretty good imagination — I make my living off of it.  And still, I couldn’t quite wrap my mind around the idea of making such a choice.  In this country, in this era of endless possibility, no one should have to.

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