Being Sick in America

23 May

(An expansion of a Facebook post)

Ever wonder how the people who actually NEED healthcare feel about America’s healthcare system?  NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health commissioned a poll to determine just that.  Shockingly, people who have actually navigated the American healthcare system find it more lacking than healthy people!

All sarcasm aside, this is a huge problem.  The results are incredibly disheartening.

Healthcare Costs

Four in ten sick Americans report that the cost of their medical care over the last 12 months has caused a “very serious” (20%) or “somewhat serious” (23%) problem for their or their family’s overall financial situation. […] About half of sick Americans say the out of pocket costs of medical care are a “very serious” (25%) or a “somewhat serious” (23%) problem for them.

Also, 73% of sick people think healthcare costs are a “very serious problem,” vs. 61% of the healthy.  9 in 10 sick people view rising healthcare costs as a “very serious” (73%) or “somewhat serious” (16%) problem for America.

Furthermore, cost prevents sick people from getting the care they so desperately need.

One in six sick Americans say that there was a time in the past 12 months when they could not get the medical care they needed (17%). […] Among the sick Americans who could not receive care, 52% report they could not afford the needed care, and 24% say their insurers would not pay for it.

The situation is even worse if you lack insurance.

Forty percent of those who had been without health insurance at some time in the past 12 months say there was a time when they needed medical care, but could not get it

Sometimes, people even get turned away: 1 in 9 sick Americans have been turned away by a hospital or doctor for either insurance or financial reasons in the last year.

Healthcare Quality

Almost half of sick Americans view healthcare quality as a “very serious problem.”  26% of sick people feel the care they receive for their health conditions isn’t managed properly.

14% of sick Americans could not get an appointment or a referral to see a specialist they thought they needed

I’ve seen this firsthand: many specialists do not accept Medicaid (or even any form of insurance).  I watched a dear family friend struggle with life-threatening allergy attacks simply because she could not find a specialist in the DC area accessible by public transit that would accept Medicaid.  She had to go to the ER over and over again, hoping that eventually a visit wouldn’t just temporarily quell the allergic response, but prescribe her medication to stave off any further attacks (luckily, this happened after approximately half a dozen visits).

This poll is extremely important: the voices of people with health problems must be heard, and further, represented in talks of what to do about healthcare.  It’s easy for people who have not had to deal with serious illness to say that it’s fine to deprive people of healthcare, just like how it’s easy for any majority to ignore the needs of a minority group.  Our discourse and policy suffer because we so rarely hear from those who have needed to navigate our healthcare system.

Because we need to have sick people’s opinions out in the open, I’ve decided to share a bit of my story of struggling with health problems (even though I’m frankly a little fearful of doing so).

I take medicine twice a day for autoimmune disorders that, if untreated, cause severe joint pain in my back, neck, hands and feet.  Without insurance, I’d have to pay over $500 a month for medicine that I need to be ambulatory and able to hold my own toothbrush.  I’d have to pay an additional $300+ for medicine that vastly improves my quality of life and makes me able to go about my day just like everyone else my age.  In 2002, I had to have life-saving lung surgery.  Without insurance, all the care that I had over two weeks in the hospital would have cost into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.  I am extremely lucky that I have insurance — thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I can be on my father’s plan until I turn 26 in September — and that I can afford my co-pays.  However, even with insurance, my medical costs minus doctors’ appointments are over $200 a month.

Do I deserve healthcare simply because my parents are employed?  Because I can afford it?  If someone doesn’t have insurance, is it morally acceptable to leave her almost bedridden due to excruciating pain when medicine can make her a healthy, productive member of society?  If children don’t have insurance, is it okay to let them die slowly and in agony if they can’t afford surgery (or leave parents so deep in debt they must declare bankruptcy to save their children)?

I was flabbergasted the day I saw the bill the insurance company sent my family for the cost of saving my life: a six digit number magically turned into a three digit one.  The shock — the horror, anger and disgust at seeing that initial number coupled with feeling lucky as hell when it practically disappeared — still hasn’t left me after almost a decade.  We need to find ways to reduce costs and provide universal healthcare.  No one should have to pay so much money just to stay alive.

Thinking Liberally,


P.S. If you want to see the poll’s summary report (which is where all the quotations come from), here it is:

P.P.S. Thanks to, my most beloved liberal news site, for alerting me to this.  If you don’t read Think Progress, you really should.


2 Responses to “Being Sick in America”

  1. Ian Logsdon May 24, 2012 at 4:29 pm #

    I’ll go you one further, the issue is actually that our medical professionals are greedy, unethical, sleazy individuals. I recently heard a segment on marketplace ( in which the Director of Cardiology for Oakwood hospital recounts having discussions with surgeons where he denied a request to do surgery because it was unnecessary. These walking Hippocratic-Oath-violations actually had the gall to come up to him and tell him they needed to do more surgery, because he was hurting their income. He told them they could either get used to only doing surgery as a last resort or leave. Long story short, he’s lost a lot of surgeons, but patients costs are lower. These people don’t belong in medicine, and if the gov’t ran things like in England they wouldn’t even have these stupid incentives. Sadly that’s not the way things work, so you have to go into the hospital skeptical, assuming the person you are talking to is trying to rip you off. Doctors nowadays have more in common with used car salesmen than the heroic image we like to have in our minds.

  2. ventureforth May 29, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    I know exactly what you mean. My personal costs have always been minimal, but my dad’s were unspeakable for years. Way back in 1990 he had a heart attack, and his various medications, and double bypass were costs I know were obscene (but couldn’t actually price for you). His brain tumor, on the other hand, I DID see bills for. Just one chemotherapy treatment was $70,000 before insurance, and he had treatments every two weeks for more than 6 months. I cannot begin to estimate how much his neurosurgery cost – I kind of want to know, if only so I can cringe in horror.

    The tumor ended up being a death sentence anyway, but if we hadn’t had insurance, I’d have lost him far earlier.

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