I should say from the get-go that I am lucky enough to have a good health plan from my employer. The co-pays on office visits and prescriptions have gone up over the years (oh $15 co-pay, where have you gone??), but my insurer has been good to me thus far.
But I have seen how much health care can cost for just one patient. One four-year old patient. And if this ever happened to someone with no coverage, the ramifications would be massive.
I have written about it here before, but if you don't know my four-year old daughter was diagnosed with cancer back in March. It's a very rare form called pluero-pulmonary blastoma (PPB). About 10-20 kids get it in the US each year. There is no set protocol for its treatment due to its rarity; in many ways, my daughter is creating the protocol. Thankfully, she is responding incredibly well to treatment right now and is amazing all her doctors with his energy and fight. If it wasn't for the hair loss and the chemo line in her chest, you wouldn't know she was sick.
One day back in April an envelope came to the house from the hospital. In it was not a bill, but a statement of benefits; i.e. everything that my daughter had needed during her initial stay in the hospital and the costs for each. The amounts were staggering. Thousands of dollars per day for a room, thousands more for the doctors and the scans and the tests. She was in the hospital for roughly two weeks. My insurance covered all of it.
All $67,000 of it.
I was floored by that amount. That it cost more than the median yearly income in the United States to stabilize and treat my daughter. And while I was grateful my insurance covered it...how many families have a small girl that is sick and don't have insurance? Or the means to pay that kind of money?
And the statements keep coming. Nursing services, medications, weekly chemo, monthly hospital stays...costs between a couple of hundred bucks and over $10,000 when my daughter has to go into the hospital for a longer chemo session. She has easily received services that have cost in excess of $100,000 so far, and her treatment schedule involves surgery that hasn't happened yet and more chemo that won't end until early 2010. All told, her total treatment cycle will likely cost over $500,000 when all is said and done. And all I have had to pay for that is the co-pay cost for prescription meds (including some chemo drugs) and clinic/office visits. And while that isn't cheap, it's doable.
But there are millions of families out there with no insurance. And soon, it is likely one of those families will find out one of their kids has cancer. Or heart disease. Or some other god-awful ailment. But they won't be able to afford everything their child needs because they have no insurance. Yes, they'll get the critical care at the hospital. But will they be able to buy anti-nausea meds? Or antibiotics to reduce the chance their child gets pneumonia? Will they have the means to buy plenty of hand sanitizer so the overall chance of an illness spreading in the house is lessened? What will they have to set aside? What product, that their child needs to improve their chance of survival, will their parents have to not buy because they are putting all their money towards medical bills?
It sounds stark but it is the simple truth; sick children die because their parents don't have healthcare. And in the United States, especially in the United States, that is a completely unacceptable outcome.
I shouldn't consider myself "lucky" for having good healthcare. It should be expected, a known quantity in my life. I shouldn't have ever worry if a procedure will be covered for my daughter, or if a medication will be approved. I shouldn't have a nagging fear at the back of my brain worrying that one day the insurance company will decide my daughter is too costly and will try to drop us.
There needs to be a public option, a way for everyone to get affordable, comprehensive coverage. What is more costly to this nation over the long haul; a health care plan for all Americans or our current broken system that costs lives, causes bankruptcies and destroys families in the process? Which one costs this nation more?
I think the answer is obvious. As obvious as the fact that the time has come for a comprehensive public health care plan for all Americans. So that in the future, when another little girl gets sick, the envelope her parents open isn't a bill, but just a statement of benefits.