I was visiting one of my project partners today.
She has two daughters, the youngest of them 6 years old. While we were talking the girl from next door, about the same age, came over to play with the daughter.
I couldn't help but notice the fresh dime-sized scabs and scars all over her lower legs. It was some sort of skin disease.
What is it from? No one knows. Has the mother seen a doctor about it? No. Why not? No tiene dinero.
It's as simple as that. This is the Dominican Republic. This is a third-world country. There is no real public health care system. It is almost totally private, and thus inaccessible to most of the population.
A short while later, my project partner pulled out a box and showed me what was inside. It was bandages and sanitary napkins.
They are for her brother. Last year he was a security guard at a bank when it was robbed. He was shot twice and nearly died. He was taken to a hospital who told them that there was no hope.
Then the hospital found out that he was injured on the job, and thus had health insurance.
Suddenly there was hope.
Many months later he's still in bad shape, but alive. However, the insurance doesn't cover everything. That's why my project partner is taking clean bandages and sanity napkins to his hospital.
Hospital care in this country varies entirely on the ability to pay.
I live about 100 yards away from a small, local hospital. I hadn't gone into it until two weeks ago, when the father of my host family contracted influenza.
He ended up in the hospital, hooked up to an IV.
The day after he was admitted, his wife showed up at my door. She needed a bucket of water. Why? Because the hospital didn't have any water to bath him with.
Needless to say, the hospital also doesn't provide food. Families do that too.
My host family doesn't have health insurance.
As a Peace Corps volunteer, I have health insurance. Fortunately, I haven't had to use it so far (knock on wood).
One part of the training was a tour of a hospital in Santo Domingo that the Peace Corps uses. It was as clean and modern as any private hospital in the United States.
The Peace Corps uses this hospital (and one in Santiago) exclusively. I've been told that no matter how sick I am, they will not let me be admitted to any other hospital.
I have health insurance and Devil take the hindmost.
This is what a health care system looks like without government "interference". It isn't efficient. It isn't pretty. It isn't fair.
If the Tea-Party Republicans get their way in getting the government out of health care, this is what it will probably look like.