It’s just not healthy

When you’re young and invincible, which I’m pretty sure I once was, health insurance sits on your “List of Things to Consider … Someday,” slightly below stashing cash into a 401k and way above picking out a burial plot.

I’m young! I’m invincible! I’ve never spent a day in the hospital in my life! It’s a waste of money! Health insurance? Who needs it?

Then you get married and start a family (not necessarily in that order), and suddenly you have a mortgage, and you start paying attention to just how much that cell phone bill is, and you reluctantly start slapping a couple bucks into that 401k. Then, one day, you find an ugly bump in a place which isn’t supposed to have any kind of bumps at all, or you realize that those dang glasses are pretty expensive. Mr. Mortality comes knocking and knocking hard.

You need insurance. Or you realize that, yes, you’ll need it when you need it, and you finally admit to yourself that some day, probably sooner than you expect, you will need it.

This is — not to use a loaded word in the health care debate — a universal experience, isn’t it?

The other day, stabbing at the remote control at the end of a long day of waiting for calls and not getting them back, I watched a few minutes of a Denzel Washington movie, John Q. In it, Denzel plays a hard-working guy whose son needs a heart transplant.

Denzel’s character has health insurance. But it’s not nearly enough. He tries everything.  He goes through all the proper channels. He yells at Anne Heche. He pleads with James Woods. He cries. (Denzel cries!) Finally, pushed to his limit, Denzel (because he’s Denzel) takes matters into his own hands.

I won’t spoil the movie, but when Denzel takes matters into his own hands in any film, you can bet it involves a gun and some ass-whuppings.

Give a father no options and you leave him no choice.

The important point to be made here — other than you never, ever, ever push Denzel — is this: John Q. is a 2002 film. That’s 16 years ago. And still, many of us in America have no options and no choices when it comes to health insurance.

I don’t have an answer to the health care debate in this country. It’s complicated. Everyone knows that. It’s been that way for a long, long time, way before Obama or Clinton or even Ted Kennedy.  Harry Truman called for national health care after World War II. FDR wanted a national health insurance plan included when Social Security launched in the 1930s. Teddy Roosevelt called for universal coverage — oops, that word again — before that. Calls for some kind of national health insurance coverage for U.S. citizens have been around since before the Great Depression. The one in the ’30s

No one has figured it out. (Well, no one in America, anyway.) Few have come close. Republicans are in charge now, and they rather famously and ineptly proved that they can’t agree on a fix even within their party. Democrats at least had a plan, strong-armed it through Congress and made it the law of the land. But Obamacare has been pretty much gutted by the current administration.

So millions of Americans, many hard working like John Q./Denzel, still either don’t have enough insurance or are going without it all together. They roll the dice with their lives. Society — it’s hard to argue this — is worse off with a sicker public.

This problem affects all of us, even the ones lucky enough to have decent health insurance. It costs a lot to be sick in America. But it costs a lot to stay healthy, too, to keep from getting sick. It costs too much.

That, I think, should be the bottom line as we debate how to give as many Americans the best health, and health care, possible: The cost. We have to get that under control.

You can call Vox a liberal site. You’d be, largely, right. But it’s hard to argue with this.

Or this. From that second piece:

Humira is an injectable medication used to treat multiple autoimmune diseases, that range from rheumatoid arthritis to psoriasis to ulcerative colitis — and one of the best-selling drugs in American history. In 2014 alone, millions of Americans spent a combined $6.5 billion on Humira prescriptions.

But we probably didn’t have to. While Americans paid an average price of $2,669 for Humira, the Swiss were able to buy the exact same drug for $822 — and in the United Kingdom, patients got it for $1,362. If the United States paid what the Swiss paid for the arthritis drug, we would have spent $2 billion on Humira in 2014 rather than $6.5 billion.

There’s nothing different about the Humira that we bought in the United States and the drug the Swiss bought – except that in the United States, we’re terrible at negotiating a good deal on pretty much any medical service.

Crazy, right?

A couple of years ago, I went through a major surgery, as followers of this blog (few but loyal!) know. Here was one of the bills I got:


Crazy, right?

Now, I was one of the lucky ones: I had good health insurance through my employer. (Thanks, terms of my buyout!) I probably shelled out a few thousand out-of-pocket bucks when all was said and sewn up. But when you get a bill like that, and all you have to round up is a couple thousand, you pay it and walk away. Fast.

But the real crazy thing about that, as I came to realize, is that I did not make off like some heart thief in the middle of a long night. Not even close. I’d been paying some pretty stiff insurance rates for my whole career. Probably since I started in the business, back in Guam, in the mid 19**s.

The way I figure it — and I’m sure this is true — I have paid for that heart surgery through the years and then some. If you took all the money I’ve put toward health insurance over the years (not to mention all I’ve paid for regular trips to the eye doctor and the dentist and any other doctor, then all the drugs), it’s still more than whatever the insurance company has had to shell out on my behalf. Including whatever of that $115k up there they paid.

Look, I don’t have all the answers. I’m not sure I have any of them. (Though they have at least some kind of answer in places like Canada and the UK.) But this is — lightbulb slowly flickering on over my thick gourd — absurd and unsustainable. We end up with costs that are crippling us, both on a personal level and on a national level.

I understand that doctors and the medical community have to get theirs, and insurance companies want theirs, and god knows Big Pharma is not in the charity business. They want theirs, too.

Everybody wants theirs. The only one not getting theirs is us.

Damn, Denzel. We need you now more than ever.


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