You’re able to judge how great a nation is when you begin to understand the barriers and equal rights restrictions that exist within that society that inhibit certain individuals, groups or communities from being able to thrive. How a nation treats its most vulnerable members provides a window into its soul.
Thriving can take many forms and can be measured in different ways by different people, but one thing we all have in common that impacts our ability to flourish, and is the focus of this article, is whether or not we can take care of our health.
Access to healthcare on equal terms, without obstruction, is not a right here in the USA. For many, it is tied to whether or not you can afford it, whether your employer offers health insurance, if your insurance is comprehensive enough to cover what you need and, on top of all this, for many, they face systemic racism and discrimination while trying to access vital care. Living with a mental or physical illness or coping with an emergency or unexpected health difficulty or just being in control of how you want to live your life should not be contingent on overcoming barriers that hinder your ability to look after yourself.
Most people living in the United States get their health insurance from employers (49% in 2017 via the Kaiser Family Foundation) as it’s often less expensive than buying your own. On the face of it, this seems like most people have access to everything they need — but the reality is quite different.
America operates under ‘at-will employment’ which means that even if you’re a good, productive worker you can immediately, without warning and with no explanation, lose your job — and your insurance with it. Employers can refuse to include various treatments, procedures or preventative care in their health plans if it goes against their religious beliefs, and they can change what is covered after an employee has signed up for that insurance. All too often, people are left scrambling to find alternatives, often at an added cost, to maintain their health. Unionised employment does have some protections for employees but this isn’t widespread enough within the job market to be a reliable safeguard for all.
For too many people in this country, even with insurance (and definitely without it), the cost of accessing health care is just too high. Some are even facing excessive financial burdens while undergoing life-changing and life-saving treatments that will put them into a type of financial difficulty that lasts many, many years and may result in people putting off seeking help. So if the people of this country are not benefitting collectively and equally from the results of, and the systems that created these insurance and medical costs — who is?
Health care in the U.S. is a for-profit business model that is designed specifically to act as a money-making monopoly that places all the power over the pricing of medical care and insurance coverage in the hands of those trillion-dollar, for-profit companies. It’s not about getting health to the masses it’s about getting masses of wealth to the monopolized. Your right to protect your health and live a life where you can pursue your goals and live free and happy is not in your control if the tools you need to do this are kept out of your reach because corporate America needs to get richer and richer and richer.
When my husband finally found a job that offered health insurance, he decided to visit the dentist as he had some tooth pain he had delayed doing anything about because of the costs involved. A few days after his health coverage began, his employer called him in during his lunch break to let him know that the position he held was being scrapped and they immediately sent him home. It was not too long after he lost his job and our insurance disappeared that we found out the pain in his teeth and jaw is actually Stage 4 cancer.
As we face hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care costs, my husband is looking for a new job so we can cover the costs of the health insurance we’re having to buy. How long before his new job finds a reason to ‘at-will’ his employment and fire him because he needs time off to take care of his health? I already know the answer — my husband has no right to take care of his wellbeing. He has no right to protect his health.
I am doing my best to keep positive and keep the man I love from giving up and being overwhelmed by the feelings of betrayal about having worked since he was 14 years old and paying into a system all those years that, when he needs it the most, is turning its back on him — at least that’s what it feels like right now.
We’ve experienced the most beautiful kindness and support from people in similar situations or those who have supported us by donating to our GoFundMe. We are lifted up by acts of kindness from people who reach out and express the kind of love, care and humanity that I sometimes doubt exists in the world when in the middle of a fight as unique as cancer. A staggering one-third of GoFundMe fundraisers is used to cover medical costs — and it really shouldn’t be like this.
To end on a positive note, because I always try to find the light in a situation, we met with my husband’s cancer surgery team at the hospital in Michigan that does the kind of surgery and reconstruction he needs. They were amazing — and because of them, for the first time since we got his diagnosis, Jeremy and I feel hopeful. We left a medical appointment, for the very first time, feeling heard, understood and cared for.
UPDATE 10/31: Jeremy had a meeting with his new employer (he was due to start on 11/4) and they were amazingly kind and are keeping his job open for him for when he is fully recovered and he can work again. We were not expecting this and cried many happy and relieved tears.
If you’d like to donate and/or share our GoFundMe fundraiser that would be amazing. You can do so here.
How To Pay For Universal Health Care via Medium
Get in contact your elected government officials and ask them to be a champion for universal healthcare and to end discrimination and racism within the healthcare system.
Why Middle-Class Black Women Dread the Doctor’s Office via UC Berkeley News
Find information about free clinics and help with medical care while uninsured here.