Why we should pay for health care but it shouldn’t be about business

(Click here to read about my personal health struggle and why I care so much about health care reform.)

All the talk about health care in the U.S. and how to pay for it had me thinking: What did people do before health insurance anyway?

I found many dates and theories by doing a Google search for “history of health insurance.”  (Listen to a brief history here, or read a detailed presentation here.)  But I wanted a more human, first-hand account, so I asked my mom, a member of the baby boomer generation.

Health insurance existed in the 1950s, but my mom doesn’t remember having it.  She said, “People didn’t go to the doctor for every little headache.  We took Bayer aspirin, Dristan for allergies,” doctors made house calls, there were nurses in schools and a mobile clinic visited neighborhoods.  Families depended on home remedies, like Vick’s vapor rub and a hot towel, a spoonfull of castor oil and on the Watkin man, who delivered both the world’s best vanilla extract and the world’s strongest cough syrup door to door from a truck.

From a historical perspective I have to remember, blacks weren’t always admitted to hospitals, even for the things we now take for granted as essential, like childbirth.  My mom was born in a house.  People knew then, but we’re even more certain now that giving birth is complicated and risky; hundreds of things could go wrong, and it’s best that a mother be surrounded by professionals who know how to handle the what-ifs.

And that’s what we’re paying for.  Advancements in medicine, research and technology cost money.  (That’s why I’m walking to raise money for lupus research on September 19.  Click here for more info.)  State of the art machines and facilities save lives and give comfort, and they don’t just build themselves.  If they did, every country would have them, and they don’t.  Medical treatment in the United States trumps that of almost every other country.

When you can afford to get treated.

There’s something inherently wrong about health care being a business.  It’s different from wellness, from doing basic things to prevent disease.  It’s hard to quit smoking, but no one is forced to start.  Clean water and soap are fully accessible in the U.S.  It’s free to walk outside for 30 minutes a few times a week, and even people in the smog-filled City of Angels do that on days when Santa Ana winds carry ashes from wildfires into their lungs.  Louisville’s own urban center is a food desert, but most people have easy access to fresh fruit and vegetables.  Beyond that, if you want the Bath & Body Works anti-bacterial collection instead of Softsoap on sale for a dollar, for example, or if you want to join a gym or buy exclusively organic, it’s your choice.  Having lupus or breast cancer or a broken leg or a debilitating personality disorder is not.  And to me, it feels wrong that diseases that cost you so much could also cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.  And never cure.

It doesn’t feel wrong because I don’t think doctors, nurses, aides, and medical technicians should be paid.  Quite the contrary; we pay everyone else for their skills, and if the technicians who run the machines and the doctors who diagnose us based on the machines’ results had to pay to learn how to accurately operate the machines and diagnose us, they deserve to get paid well for their skills.

It feels wrong because someone who is not in the business of saving lives can refuse to help you pay your highly-skilled doctors when you do get sick, even after you’ve paid him for months or years to pay those doctors when that happens.

It feels wrong because I have friends who are doctors, who took an oath to “apply, for the benefit of the sick, all (emphasis mine) measures [that] are required,” but who can’t fulfill the oath because their patients don’t want all measures because they can’t afford them.

It feels wrong because some of those same doctor friends participate in medical mission trips and use their own money to give all available care to people who have no concept of a statement of benefits or of a claim stamped “DENIED,” but in their own country, they’re limited by what’s covered by their health insurance.

It feels wrong to let people die for the sake of profit.

The next post is about my personal health struggle and why I care so much about this topic.  Click here to read it.

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© Mariam Williams, aka The Pink-Slipped Girl, and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off, 2009. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mariam Williams and The Pink Slip Blog – Living Life Laid Off or http://livinglifelaidoff.com, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Any use and/or duplication of any photo contained within this blog without express and written permission from Mariam Williams is strictly prohibited.

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