I was going to take the day off from blogging today, but Sam had an interesting comment that made me want to start writing. Even as I type this, I’m not sure how I feel about the whole situation.
If you read through Sam’s blog, he has had a lot of things happen in his life that he didn’t deserve. The latest problems seems to have been a sudden medical event that caused him a significant amount of medical debt. Now he is in the process of filing bankruptcy because he did not have health insurance. Despite all this, with help from God, he has persevered and seems to have a close loving relationship with his kids.
His case reminds me of another blogger, Steph, who I wrote about back in February. She, too had a tremendous amount of medical debt and was trying to climb out of her “debt hole.” Unfortunately it looks like she has fallen upon harder times as well.
The plight of these bloggers is not uncommon. Hospitals seem more and more willing to sue for medical debts. Should hospitals be able to force people into bankruptcy for the medical services that they provide?
A hospital is a business. Without money, the business goes bankrupt.
If you walk into a lawyer’s office, many times you’ll need a retainer or the lawyer won’t take your case. If the retainer runs out and you don’t pay, then the lawyer stops providing services.
If you walk into a supermarket, fill up your basket, and leave without paying, you’ll be arrested for theft.
Stop paying the guy to cut your lawn and you’ll have to do it yourself.
Why do people expect that medical care should be free if they don’t have any money?
Part of the answer to that question appears to be the sentiment that some people get medical care for free, so therefore I should get medical care for free. No one walks into the supermarket and walks out without paying for their groceries, so the general public does not expect that they should be able to do the same. People don’t regularly get free services from their accountants or their attorneys, so the public doesn’t expect that going to an accountant or an attorney should be free. On the other hand, a lot of people get “free” medical care. Those in similar financial situations but who are forced to pay for their medical care then feel cheated.
That idea seems to be at the center of the deportation issue I wrote about yesterday. If you look at the comments to the Chicago Tribune article, you’ll see that many people state things to the effect that “these people pay nothing into the system and take everything out of the system” and “we have to take care of our own citizens before we take care of foreign nationals.”
I agree. The “system” has to be more equitable.
The problem is that for all the beliefs that “we” have as individuals and that “we” project to others as moral directives, “we” don’t want to be personally involved in advancing those beliefs.
There are many homeless people that deserve shelter, but “we” don’t offer them a place to stay in our basement because although “we” believe the homeless deserve a place to live, “we” don’t want to be personally involved. In fact, “we” don’t even want a homeless shelter anywhere near us because that would affect our property values. It’s OK to provide these services as long as it isn’t in our back yard.
More and more families are finding it difficult to put food on the table. Food at food pantries is drying up. “We” believe that no one should go hungry, yet “we” don’t offer the food we purchase to others because although it is morally correct to feed the hungry, technically “we” think it is someone else’s job.
Medical care is different, though.
People in emergencies “need” medical care and they need it immediately. It is morally objectionable to risk people’s lives and health by refusing to provide services because people can’t afford to pay for those services.
That’s the crux of the problem.
Medical care is a business, but it is a different business.
Hospitals are in the business of fixing people, and some people need to be fixed immediately – money or not. Who pays for the increasing number of people with little or no money?
“We” pay taxes. The taxes we pay are no longer sufficient to fund the care “we” think that “we” deserve. In addition, those taxes are going to a thousand other places because “we” believe that those thousands of other things are more important than providing medical care to “ourselves.” In fact, “we” are finding more and more devious ways to cut payments for medical care to “ourselves” in the form of “never events,” payment cuts for programs to train new doctors, and payment cuts to medical providers in general.
One of the ways that hospitals earn money is by charging inflated prices to those who can afford to pay for their medical care. Unfortunately this game has become ridiculous. I wrote about the high cost of medical care in a previous post. Read it – maybe it will help you if you need to negotiate with the hospital about a bill. $129 for a box of Kleenex? $90 for a 70 cent IV line? My recent surgery ended up costing $72,000. Medicare’s payment for the same procedure is $6,500.
When payments dry up, medical providers have to make a decision – find other sources of revenue or close up shop. More and more providers are choosing the latter option. But some of the hospitals that are trying to stay open are suing to get their money and making the lives of those with limited incomes a living hell.
What’s the right answer?
All this rambling and I still don’t know the right answer.
I do know that “we” need to start taking better care of “us,” though. “We” need to pass meaningful health care reform. “We” need to talk to our legislators about improving the state of health care in this country. “We” need to vote for elected officials who make the medical care of the citizens in this country a priority. E pluribus unum.
But most of the people reading this are young and healthy and this issue probably doesn’t apply to them, right?
Catastrophic events happen regularly. I see them all the time. You’re just a clogged artery, a busted blood vessel, a blown tire, or a drunken driver away from becoming the next case of medical bankruptcy.
Just ask Sam.