Why We Need Universal Health Insurance

Kate Michelman tells a horrible story in The Nation. In 2001, a horse fell backwards onto her daughter, paralyzing her for life. Then her husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. Michelman and her husband had health insurance and long-term care insurance; her daughter did not. Between her daughter’s expenses and what her husband’s health insurance did not cover, they had “all but exhausted our savings.” Then her husband’s balance began to deteriorate. They scheduled an appointment, and then:

“We pulled up to the main entrance of the hospital after the two-hour drive from our home near Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. My husband opened his door, grabbed the roof of the car and began to pull himself out as I walked around to help him. I was too late. In an instant–time slowed enough for me to see the danger but raced ahead too fast for me to reach him–he lost his grip and fell to the concrete, shattering his hip, breaking his femur and causing internal bleeding that kept him in the hospital for months.

My husband is a retired college professor, and what the teaching profession lacks in salary it often makes up for with generous benefits. His health insurance would cover most of the emergency costs related to the fall–the surgeries, the hospitalization, the drugs. But in the astronomical sums the cost of medical care often entails, “most” is not a reassuring word. Months later, as his discharge from the hospital drew near, I sat in my living room looking at the bills piling up on the table. The co-pays, uncovered care and other costs had already reached $8,000, and we had virtually nothing left. (…)

The fraying financial thread by which we were already hanging was now certain to snap. When I heard the awful sound of my husband’s body hitting the concrete outside the hospital, I knew the modicum of independence to which he had clung for so long was gone. He was discharged into an assisted-living facility, where most of the cost was excluded from both his private long-term-care insurance and Medicare. At $9,000 a month, the bills accumulated quickly.

Recently, we decided to bring him home, although the doctors would have preferred that he stay at a facility with full-time supervision. But this was a mathematical decision, not a medical one: we do not have the money it costs to keep him there. I had already stopped working, to care for him; our savings are nearly depleted; and his pension is not nearly large enough to pay the bills.

Today he needs nearly round-the-clock professional help at home–less than the cost of the assisted-living facility but still far more than we have. I have spent recent weeks looking for a job that can add at least enough to my husband’s pension and our Social Security benefits to cover the cost of his care. It is a dilemma familiar to so many women–finding work that can pay for care but also leave time for providing it.

The time is drawing near when, job or no job, the expenses will simply be more than we have.”

Read the whole thing.

I have never understood why Republicans are not behind universal health insurance. Though I don’t agree with them, I can see the argument for not providing help for problems that are in some way people’s own fault, or that might lead to big problems with moral hazard. But health care isn’t like that. While some illnesses are due to people’s choices, many are not. When you get sick, you can be ruined financially, whether or not you have been prudent. When acts of God ruin like hurricanes or earthquakes ruin people’s lives, we step in to help. I have never understood why health care should be different.