Elle’s room was at the very end of the hall. So any time I left her hospital bed to stagger towards the elevators and the brittle construction of normalcy that existed beyond, I was forced to walk past all the other rooms in the pediatric ICU.
Every window was a snapshot into some other parent’s nightmare. As I walked that hallway those three days Elle was sedated, a tube stuffed down her throat and a machine breathing for her while her body recovered from the flu virus that had nearly taken her life, the weight of what some of these children faced took the air out of my lungs.
Elle would recover – doctors had already told us that. We would go home, Elle would spend the rest of that winter recuperating, while Craig and I spent the next two years digging out from under the co-pays, coinsurance and premium payments that would ultimately cause us to max out our credit cards and prevent us from taking family vacations or buying each other birthday gifts.
But Elle would be OK. And, because of health insurance, we wouldn’t go bankrupt. I didn’t know if the other children and families we met during our short stay at Denver Children’s Hospital would be as lucky. Some, I’m sure, were not.
As the political squabbles leading up to the coming presidential election reach a fever pitch – many of those squabbles focusing on the controversial subject of health care –
I’m reminded of those trips I took down the hall at the PICU at Children’s Hospital. Political views are shaped by personal experience. My experiences with health care, both in France where Elle was born and in the U.S., have shaped my views about government’s role in the health of its citizens. And it has lead me to believe that universal health care isn’t just a good idea: It’s a basic human right.
The Affordable Care Act, enacted by President Obama in 2010, prohibits health insurance companies from denying coverage to individuals with pre-existing medical conditions and from charging them higher rates, as they can do today. Additionally, insurers can no longer cancel your policy if you get sick, nor can they set annual dollar limits or lifetime limits on how much they’ll pay for an individual’s medical bills.
Other perks include premium rebates if insurers underspend on care (your insurance company has to spend at least 80-85 percent of the premiums you pay on medical care, otherwise you receive a rebate) and young adults can stay on a parent’s plan until age 26.
Perhaps most importantly, the legislation focuses on prevention and primary care; to help people stay healthy and to manage chronic medical conditions before they become more complex and costly to treat, with free preventive care and annual checkups. Women are entitled to additional preventive measures, including free well-woman visits, screening for gestational diabetes, domestic violence screening, breast-feeding supplies, and contraception.
Many of the changes the ACA has laid out are set to take effect in 2014. That is, if Mitt Romney isn’t elected (he has promised to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, as soon as he takes office).
What this means to me is this: My daughter could become uninsurable.
Following the many tense months we spent attempting to determine what, exactly, went wrong that awful February night, our pediatrician handed us the tentative diagnosis of asthma. I actually felt relieved, since once you have a diagnosis, I believed, you could better come up with a treatment. We could, with albuterol and steroids and a growing knowledge of this condition, potentially stave off another terrifying trip to the hospital.
Somehow, that felt more comforting to me than the supposition that she got the flu and nearly died. And that it could happen again.
Until it dawned on me that, because the word “asthma” was now written on her medical chart in big block letters, her future as a health-insured person was in jeopardy. And, in turn, the life my husband and I have worked hard to create hung in the balance, at the mercy of the health insurance industry.
This is roughly what it would have cost us, has we not had health insurance when Elle got sick: Two ambulance rides, $2,500. Flight for Life, $48,000. Three days in the PICU, $50,000. Three days in a regular hospital room at Children’s Hospital, $12,000. Lab work, X-rays, prescription drugs, $8,000.
The final price tag for saving our daughter’s life, around $120,000, is well more than we make in a year – closer to what we make in two years – and doesn’t include the lost wages, travel expenses and other costs incurred throughout Elle’s illness.
Two year’s worth of wages, most of it spent in six days. I cannot fathom the bills some of the other parents I brushed shoulders with at Children’s Hospital were facing, and likely still face, as their children struggle to be healthy.
You shouldn’t have to be rich to be able to afford to save your child’s life. Health insurance should be available to everyone, regardless of their pre-existing conditions or their income. Mandating health insurance for everyone, even if they don’t want it or feel they don’t need it, is a necessity. You can’t buy homeowners insurance when your house is underwater, or car insurance that covers damages that have already happened. Requiring health insurers to accept anyone regardless of pre-existing conditions without requiring everyone to buy insurance would drive the cost of coverage even higher.
Notwithstanding the uproar surrounding the mandate that everyone in America must have health insurance, that mandate will likely concern only about two percent of the population, according to an analysis by Urban Institute, Washington, D.C. think tank. That’s because most Americans either already have insurance, are exempt under the law, would qualify for Medicaid, or would use tax credits to buy policies in the online insurance exchanges, or marketplaces, outlined in the Affordable Care Act.
Mitt Romney has vowed to repeal the ACA. According to the Mitt Romney for President website, universal health care “will make America a less attractive place to practice medicine, discourage innovators from investing in life-saving technology, and restrict consumer choice.”
Meanwhile, when the World Health Organization ranked the world’s health care programs by country, the USA came in at 38th – alongside Costa Rica, Cuba, and Slovenia. Rankings were based not just on the quality of care, but also on its distribution to the general population. America ranked 15th in performance, but first in cost.
What these controversial results came down to was that if you have the money, you can get great health care in America. If you don’t, you may as well live in Cuba.
How is bankrupting the middle-class American families now struggling with health issues going to be good for the American economy? Romney says that after he repeals the ACA, he’s going to “pursue policies that give each state the power to craft a health care reform plan that is best for its own citizens.” So we start the health-care debate anew? States already struggling to finance education and other vital services during a recession will now also be handed the reins to health care reform? How many states are willingly going to take on this massive task? Or will we be right back where we started with health care, and its exorbitant costs, when Romney repeals Obamacare?
The Affordable Health Act is not a panacea for the challenges our country faces in caring for its citizens. But it’s a start. Every single country ranked in the WHO’s top 20 health care programs boasts some form of universal health care for its citizens; 32 of the world’s 39 developed countries have universal health care. Isn’t it time we end the political squabbles about health care, and start working to keep American children healthy, and American families thriving?