Elle’s Spoiled Milk Emergency Room Fund
by Martinique Davis
06.25.09 - 10:21 am
RAISING ELLE

Health care, and the raging debate over how and even if it should be reformed, has seemed to trounce most of the other television news banter I lackadaisically listen to while our family goes about its morning business.

And while I tend to tune out most of what those serious-eyed anchors yap and yowl about, this week’s ongoing discussion about health care reform had me listening. I’ve heeded more of this discussion this week not so much because I had an epiphany that my apathy over national politics is really quite lame, (which I wish had actually been the case,) but more on account of the fact that the issue of health care and its exorbitant costs reared its ugly head in our household recently.

I had laughed earlier this week when telling friends the story of my daughter’s first trip to the emergency room. In retrospect, it had been humorous – thankfully. We were on the road home from a month-long trip in California when Elle got a bad case of the barfies. She was literally puking like she needed an exorcist, and even worse, the poor little pumpkin just looked like she wanted to die. As a parent, you take that look pretty seriously.

If we had been at home, a quick trip to the clinic would have allayed our fears – but we were on the road in a hot and smelly car, driving across Arizona and nowhere near our friendly hometown physicians. Added to that was the ever-alarming fact that we had just been camping in California; yes, as fate would have it, we had been camping in California just when the whole Swine Flu scare exploded onto every newspaper cover and radio news report.

When we raced into Flagstaff that evening, Craig and I were no longer the balanced, rational parents (with backgrounds in emergency medicine, I’ll add) that we had been that morning. A call to my mom only raised our anxiety level from high to extreme. We carried a wilted Baby Elle into the Flagstaff Emergency Room, donning facemasks as we told any nurse that would listen that our baby has been vomiting all day – AND, WE JUST CAME FROM CALIFORNIA!!

Naturally, Elle perked up within 20 minutes of our panicky entrance into the ER. Four full hours later we left the ER with a perfectly healthy-looking child. A child to whom we had most likely, inadvertently, given some spoiled milk that morning. A child that did not have the Swine Flu.

The story of Elle’s first trip to the Emergency Room was laughable; or, more appropriately, to imagine what the very kind nurses and doctors in Flagstaff saw in us, the two overly edgy parents with a perfectly fine kid were laughable.

But I wasn’t laughing this week when I opened the bill from Flagstaff Emergency Physicians. When Elle looked like death in the back of the car those weeks ago, the cost of bringing her to someone who could help her never once entered my thoughts. The next time (please don’t let there be one!) I consider bringing her to the hospital, however, I’m afraid I will be thinking about what it’s going to cost.

That’s because our little spoiled-milk snafu cost $790.86.

No, dear readers, you needn’t send your coffee money to the Raising Elle Spoiled Milk Emergency Room Fund. Because I have health insurance. Hooray!

Well, not actually such a loud or happy hooray. A hooray in the sense that I’m only paying what I still consider to be a significant portion of that bill ($159 and counting), instead of all of it. Really, it’s not a very big hooray at all, because when I think of the more than $400 that I and my employer spend on our health insurance premiums every single month… and wonder where that money goes … and realize that seeing a doctor in the Emergency Room – even if they don’t do anything but talk to you for ten minutes and prescribe some anti-nausea medication – costs more than I make in a month… it is actually quite frightening. It’s frightening, and I am one of the Americans who actually has health insurance that covers my child.

There are nine million children that are uninsured in America today. And I wonder; how would those 18 million parents manage a sick kid in the back of their car on a hot day driving across Arizona? We were lucky. Elle wasn’t actually, seriously sick. But when I received that bill that day, and thought about all the parents out there who can’t afford health insurance – and even those who can, but barely – I started feeling a bit sick myself.

In France, where Elle was born, the total cost of going to see the doctor for a routine visit was 24 euro, or about $30. The total cost of my non-emergency cesarean section was just over 3,000 euro ($4,500.) But that isn’t what it costs for a French woman to have a baby in France. In France, women pay nothing for maternity care – everything is paid for, from the monthly tests for taxoplasmosis, to the regular (very in-depth) ultrasounds, even to a c-section after which the moms and babies stay in the Maternite for up to ten days.

In comparison, to see a doctor or have a caesarean in America costs close to three times that – if you don’t have insurance. Even if you do, you sure aren’t going to recoup in the hospital for ten days after a c-section – without paying dearly for it, that is.

Do I believe countries like France, which have systems of socialized medicine paid for heavily by taxpayer dollars, have health care figured out? No. There were things I appreciated about my experience with the French health care system (cheap medication, free prenatal and postnatal checkups, and a slew of “routine” tests given to pregnant women that definitely aren’t routine here in America.) However, being sent to a different hospital for my planned breech-baby cesarean when the operating room in Bourg-St-Maurice became too busy left something of a bad taste in my mouth.

Creating a carbon copy image of socialized health care is not what I believe our country needs to do to “fix” health care. But it’s not what I believe will happen either. What I see as one small step towards creating a system that works for everyone is what I see happening right now: Talking about it. Debating it. Admitting there is a problem, and brainstorming ways to fix it. Putting people on CNN who admonish the fact that our country has nine million uninsured children who aren’t getting adequate, much less preventative, medical care.

And for this family’s part, at least, a step in the right direction needs to start at home; where I will never, ever again give Elle a sippy cup full of milk without smelling it first!
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