Recently I have had the misfortune of visiting the emergency room twice - once with my father, who had had a stroke, and once as a patient, due to a dislocated knee.
In both instances the care was top-notch. The hospital emergency room staff, the nurses and the doctors all took very good care of us.
However, my father and I have two very different health care situations. I have health insurance, and simply have to pay a modest deductible for all of the care I received. My father though, has no health insurance and is currently trying to figure out how to pay the hospital, the doctors, etc.
While my father and I don't see eye-to-eye on everything, he's a pretty decent guy. He proudly served our nation in the Navy. He was an autoworker before that. And he is also part Choctaw Indian.
I mention all of this as context. He is a 63-year-old veteran living on Social Security, and he doesn't have a lot of financial options.
Needless to say, unless something is figured out he is going to be stuck with hospital bills totaling $23,000, which he really can't afford to pay.
Oh, and let me repeat myself: He's a veteran without health care.
In a nation that supposedly honors its veterans we seem to be doing a piss-poor job of taking care of them after their service. In fact, 1.8 million veterans lack health care. In all, almost 6 million American veterans and their family members lack health care. And nearly two-thirds of these veterans are employed, like my father until he had a stroke.
To make matters worse, since my father doesn't have health insurance he will likely be charged more for the care he received than if he did.
What do I mean? Put simply, in today's for-profit health care industry those who can least afford to pay for health insurance are usually charged more for their health care needs than those who can afford to pay for health insurance.
Let me explain with an example from my hospital visit.
About a month after my injury I started receiving hospital bills: one bill was for $2,461.25, another was for $2,173, and another was for $275, and then there were a few smaller bills.
Obviously, I was concerned about the prospect of having to pay these bills. When I called my health care provider, a very nice lady in customer service said, "Don't worry about those bills, as they were probably issued prior to [the insurer] making payment based on your policy agreement, though you will still need to pay your deductible."
Then I asked a few questions and found out that the insurer negotiates a lower rate for its members. So for example, the hospital bill for $2,461.25 was now $1,550, she told me, almost $1,000 less.
I then asked her, "Does that mean if I hadn't had insurance I would have to pay $2,461.25 instead of the insurer paying $1,550." She politely answered, "Yes," and I'm sure similar negotiated rates have been applied to the rest of my bills as well. All of which strikes me as irrational.
But maybe that's the point. Our current health care system is irrational.
Veterans, service men and women, people who proudly served in our armed forces and their families, deserve universal health care coverage. Veterans should be able to walk into any hospital or doctor's office in the country and receive top-notch health care for free - we all should.
Veterans, or anybody else for that matter, should NOT put off going to the hospital or doctor's office.
My father had his stroke on a Tuesday night or Wednesday morning, but waited until Thursday afternoon to call me. His speech was slurred, his eyesight was blurry and he had vertigo. I literally had to drag him to the emergency room, because he didn't know how he was going to pay for the care he received.
While I know single-payer, cradle to grave, health care is a far cry from where we are at today, can't we at least make sure all of our veterans and their families have health care? Can't we at least make sure that those without health care aren't arbitrarily charged more for the care they receive than those with health insurance?
The Affordable Care Act has taken some modest steps in the right direction. However, we've got a long way to go.
Photo: Medicaid rally and lobby day, Jefferson City, Missouri, April 16.. Missouri Progressive Vote Coalition Facebook page.