Let me tell you a story. It is a story of a transition in my life that was badly timed with the collapse of the american economy. A time when i thought i could stomach working in the bowels of a beast I reviled. It is the story of a mistake.
Ive had several careers. The last being trucking. It allowed me to see almost every city and town east of the mississippi. To understand how different and how alike we all are. It was with that mindset i took a job answering phone calls about peoples health insurance. As much as i reviled large corporations, office politics, insurance companies and the rest i reasoned that working in the belly of the beast wouldnt be so bad. That maybe i could help people. It was a scarring mistake.
I spent a lot of my time explaining why our company (a very large health insurance corporation) was raising rates as much as 30-40%. Where i spent a lot of time explaining to employers why they couldnt renew their insurance because they were one day too late on their premiums. Where i explained to people i couldnt help them or give them information as to why their insurance was cancelled when in reality i knew the employer just couldnt make the payments anymore. Where i referred employers to sales because they simply couldnt pay $500 or $1000 or $1500 per employee anymore.
But let me tell you the story that ill carry with me for life.
On an early monday morning in the middle of winter i was having a splendid day. All the callers were reasonable and there were no tragedies to darken the day. My coworkers were positive and the one or two i reviled had stayed home. And then the call came..
An elderly lady was calling me about her prescription insurance. Prescription coverage isnt traditionally very expensive, at least from our point of view. And then there are the "other" plans. You see corporations are compartmentalised for a reason. While sales may know that high risk individuals are to be funneled to certain very expensive plans, the normal persons prescription coverage isnt a burden.
I spent an hour talking to this lady. Usually i got them off the phone but quite honestly i was quite happy talking to this lady. I really wanted to help her. I had visions of a tiny little lady in a one room house. You know the kind, with the perfect little yard. Lots of flowers everywhere. Neighborhood kids waving hi as they went by. But this lady was on a fixed income. You see thats the thing about fixed incomes. There is no "more" to dip into. There are no "extra overtime hours" to make up. And this lady was at the limit. And we had just doubled her prescription rates.
To me or you that may not seem like such a horrible thing. Just a few bucks more a month. But , as the elderly tend to be, she had prescriptions. Prescriptions she couldnt live without. And she was scared. Scared but kind. I tried everythign i could think of. Talked to sales. Asked around in my department. There simply was no help. In the end i looked up her states medicare and medicaid numbers. I suggested she talk to agencies and organisations i dont even remember. I will tell you this is the first person i talked to whom if i had the money id have paid her premiums. All of them.
Eventually she stopped crying. And when my supervisor walked over to say i needed to end the call i was none too nice. Dont get me wrong my supervisor was a very very nice person. But she had been trained. We arent supposed to help people. To suggest other places they could get help. We're supposed to get them off the phone. My supervisor was a corporate employee and corporate employees are efficient cogs. I got off the phone not too long after. And i went on break far far outside the "time window" i was supposed too. Deep down hoping someone tried to stop me.
I went outside and for the first time in my adult life i felt dirty for having this job. I felt evil. I had violated the one rule i have lived my life by. To never put money or career above morality.
I quit that job not long after. I nearly quit that day. Ill never do anything like that again. I will become homeless first.
Her story isnt the only one. I cannot list the number of times i had to tell people or employers that i was sorry.. theres nothing i can do. Or tell employers that because they hadnt made the payment their employees bills wouldnt be paid, they wouldnt get further care, and that their employer couldnt reinstate. That people were going to die. Because we needed profit. That people are going to suffer and die because a congressman needs some graft. That people are going to die because a suit needs a new Jaguar.
This is the story of american healthcare. Not one of singular evil. A system of corporatist, greedbased machinery. Machinery designed to extract profit regardless of the cost in blood.
This is why we need a healthcare revolution. This is why when someone cheerleads about the wonder of HIR some of us react with a deep abiding anger. Because somewhere in america today , and each day in 2011, and every day until we Revolutionise american healthcare someone is going to die because someone else wants nicer toys. And thats wrong.