I am a healthy person (knock on wood!), but the U.S. healthcare system is not working for me, or for most of us in the 99 percent. Let me give you a brief example. In August of 2018, after spending 24 hours with a fever and diffuse pain in my abdomen, I went to the Eureka Hospital Emergency Room, where an IV was placed, blood was drawn for labs, and a CT scan was performed. I was quickly informed that I had acute appendicitis and that I would have to go to Bloomington/Normal for surgery immediately.
When the ER doctor told me that I would have to go to another hospital, my partner quickly volunteered to drive me there. That seemed the obvious answer … until we were informed that if we drove ourselves, we would have to go through the whole ER check-in procedure again, and be charged for it again. We would not even be able to keep the IV in, which had been difficult to place. The alternative, we were told, was to be transported by ambulance, and that would cost even more than repeating the whole ER check-in procedure again.
I am grateful to all the doctors and nurses, but they too are caught up in an illogical health care system that often requires that they demand unreasonable things of their patients. Both options they presented to us — an expensive ambulance, or an expensive second check-in procedure — were bad. With my very high deductible, and my not very high income, it was hard to decide which was the lesser of two evils.
I had Blue Cross/Blue Shield insurance that I had bought through the Marketplace. However, because my income is slightly over the amount required to qualify for a subsidy, I paid the full monthly premium of $738. (I do know people who qualify for the subsidy, which can often be a literal life-saver.) My insurance covered only myself, and did not include dental or vision coverage. In addition to the high monthly premium, I had a deductible of $6,500, which by August, I had already paid around $2,000 for various procedures and tests.
In the end, I kept the IV in, took the ambulance, avoided a second check-in procedure, and was in and out of the operating room in short order. While my personal health outcome was good, my personal finances were not. Combining my premium costs, my full deductible, and my additional vision and dental care costs, in 2018, I spent over one third of my adjusted gross income on health care. And it’s not just because I had to have emergency surgery last year. Even if I had had perfect health, and didn’t see any doctor or optometrist or dentist in 2018, I would still have paid over 15 percent of my income on health care premiums alone. Fifteen percent is no big deal if you are Bill Gates or Wilbur Ross, but it is for me, and for many people I know. And when that 15 percent jumps to 30 percent, we begin to run into real problems.
I am not sure what the answer to our untenable healthcare system is — for me or for you (assuming you are not one of the 1 percent) — but universal health care (aka Medicare for All) is looking better every day.
Theresa Brockman, Eureka