Why I know for sure our healthcare system is f*&^%d up

written by Love Isn’t Enough contributor Liz Dwyer; originally published at Los Angelista

I grew up down the street from a boy whose mom rushed him to the doctor if he had even the slightest runny nose. I am not that mom—and as I sat in an emergency room on Sunday night with 7-year-old Mr. T and his broken wrist, I know why I’m not.

It’s hard for me to interact with an industry that will let an injured child sit in a waiting area and cry, all while calmly asking the questions that will ensure they get paid. “Mom, what’s your employer’s address? Is the patient also on your work insurance or just dad’s insurance?” Who cares about the child with a bag of frozen peas across his wrist, a makeshift sling made out of a bath towel holding it up?

Perversely, I found myself wanting to tell the receptionist, “I don’t have insurance,” just so I could see what she’d say. Would we be turned away? Would I be told that I’d be responsible for the entire bill? Made to pay the cost upfront? Of course, I’m not as insane as that, and so after all the forms were filled out, and after the insurance card and my state-issued ID had been copied, Mr. T got to get his temperature and blood pressure checked by a nurse who gave us some paperwork to take to another part of the ER.

Two hours later as we sat waiting for x-ray results, another employee arrived to collect the $75 insurance co-payment. As I handed over my card, I again wondered, what would happen if I said to them, “I don’t have any money,”? Would they refuse to show the x-ray results? Toss us out on our behinds and say to my son, “Good luck with that, homie,”?

“So, you expect health care to be free?” asked a friend the other night after listening to me rant about this. And, yeah, I guess I do. I know how crappy it is to get a $15,000 bill from a hospital after having a baby because the insurance company screwed something up–and then spending hours arguing on the phone with that insurance company to get part of that bill paid.

I know what it’s like to have to pay a $1,000 deductible just for taking my sons for annual physicals before the start of the school year. And now I know what it’s like to have to take my son to the ER and get grilled about insurance before he’s even admitted to get his broken wrist checked out.

Indeed, as any American who has been to the doctor knows first-hand, somewhere along the way our health care system stopped being about either health or caring. It’s about money. We’ve had massive fights about this in this country over the past couple of years, and, quite frankly, the fixes that have been put in place aren’t enough. If they are, why do we have an old man robbing a bank for $1 so he can go to PRISON in order to get health care? Europe’s no picnic these days but I’m tired of being jealous of my friends there who don’t have to experience the pay-to-play when they go to the doctor. When I tell them what happens when we go to the doctor or hospital here in the States, they can’t imagine having to live like this.

Unlike the mom from my childhood, I avoid the doctor. My kids aren’t sick too frequently, but when they are, I freely admit that I don’t take them. Your stomach hurts? Go lie down. You’re vomiting? You’ll feel better once you’ve thrown up a few times. Fever? Here’s some Tylenol and a cool cloth for your forehead.

On Wednesday my son got his splint replaced with a cast. His arm will be healed in a month. But what will it take to really heal–to really change–the way we provide healthcare in this country?

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek, Change.org, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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