According to the folks at Cover The Uninsured Week there are around 45 million Americans without health insurance. We hear a lot about the pros and cons of trying to establish a national health care system that would guarantee coverage for everyone and the debate about what to do about the uninsured has been going on for as long as I can remember. I haven’t spoke up much about the issue myself because I’m not really sure how to go about solving it. I’d very much like to see some form of national health care for all Americans, but I also understand that the cost could be overwhelming without some serious reforms to go along with it. My apathy was probably helped by the fact that my job provides a pretty decent bit of health care for my family and most of my relatives have got coverage as well.
Today I woke up to news about one of my extended family members who wasn’t as fortunate as I am. My mother called and left a message on my answering machine about a death in the family. Diane, a cousin of mine on my biological father’s side of the family, lost her daughter, Debbie, sometime on Friday. I’ve mentioned before that there was a big age difference between my biological father and my mother which means that my cousins from my father’s side are also older than I am such that Debbie, a first cousin once removed, and I are the same age. I didn’t know Debbie all that well and only met her a couple of times that I’m aware of, the last of which was at my mother and step-father’s 25th wedding anniversary some five or so years ago. She had attended in the company of my Uncle Clyde and I remember her as being very upbeat and fun.
I called my mother back to see if there were any more details and that’s when I learned how Debbie had died. It wasn’t a bad car accident, as I had assumed, or a long term known condition such as a weak heart or cancer. Debbie was killed by pneumonia. That’s right. An easily treatable disease that is normally semi-serious to people our age only if left untreated. Debbie had been sick for awhile with what she believed to be the flu, but she never saw a doctor for it because her family didn’t have health insurance and she couldn’t afford to pay for the office visit herself. Her husband is working a newspaper delivery route that doesn’t offer benefits and I believe she was unemployed. Her kids were at home with her when she died. They called 911 first and then they called Diane who tried to talk them through CPR until the paramedics arrived, but it was to no avail. Debbie was gone before the paramedics ever walked through the door. Apparently Debbie never recognized just how ill she was as she never asked her mother for help. Diane says had she realized how sick her daughter was she would have given her the money to go to the doctor, but Debbie assured her she was OK. She wasn’t OK and she ended up drowning in her bed because she couldn’t afford an office visit.
When I heard this I was stunned and angry. My heart breaks for Diane as I can only imagine the pain of second-guessing yourself over the death of your child. So too for Debbie’s husband and kids. I barely know these people so my sense of loss wasn’t immediate with the first phone message, but it hit home once I learned the details of what happened. This sort of story probably happens many times every day in a nation with 45 million people living without health insurance and that’s just insane.
We are one of the richest countries on the planet and the government seems to be able to magically pull trillions out of our collective taxpayer asses when they need to fight a war over weapons of mass destruction that don’t really exist, but the moment someone suggests we invest in health care for every American there’s suddenly not enough money in the world to pull that off. Seems it’s always a lot easier to find money to destroy lives than to save them. Any one of us could end up in Debbie’s shoes. If I were to lose my job tomorrow then I would be in her shoes. My sister already is in her shoes. It’s inexcusable in this day and age with as well-off as the country as whole is that anyone should be unable to get at least basic health care. There’s gotta be a way to make it work.
The question is: How many more people have to have it hit close to home before it shakes enough of us out of our apathy to do something about it?