When I was young, my parents were not big on attending doctors. We went for our annual exams for school, but they didn’t run for every ache and fever. Take an aspirin and go to school was their philosophy. While a little frustrating at times, we all grew up relatively healthy. One brother had his appendix out. The other, his tonsils. I sprained my ankle. Other than that, I don’t remember anything much happening. My parents’ jobs both provided healthcare insurance for the family and what wasn’t covered by one was filled in by the other. (On the other hand, I’ve had lots of dental work, but both of my parents had dental coverage with their employers and I currently have it with my package.)
As an adult, I went for my routine exams. Mostly I go to my doctors for my allergy pill and mammogram prescriptions. My first serious interaction with the health can system was about ten years ago. I did something stupid and cut a tendon in my left middle finger. At that point, St. Vincent’s Hospital still existed. (Now it is condos for the rich.) I walked down the block to the emergency room. They called a surgeon. I needed occupational therapy. I remember that the hospital bill was $50. As it turns out, the surgeon was not on my insurance plan, although I was not told this in advance. I received a $1200 bill which I negotiated down to a tenth of it and wrote a check. The OT was mostly covered by insurance.
About five years ago on the morning of the first seder, I burned my arm significantly. I went to urgent care, paid my copay and was fixed up. I needed a prescription which was a few bucks since I have a good prescription plan. I also needed a lot of bandages and such. They were not covered, but I could afford them. I’m not sure that the urgent care was the best and thankfully, a doctor friend managed my recovery for free and my partner changed my bandages. There is no scar, much to my doctor friend’s amazement.
Recently, I began to feel as if I was falling apart. I went to my doctor around Thanksgiving. I had a bit of spotting which required testing, a visit to my doctor and a specialist, and some minor surgery. My doctor was $20, testing $20, specialist visit $30, hospital expenses $200. We’ll see if there are further doctor bills, Less that $300 seems quite reasonable to deal with a pre-cancerous situation. All is well.
I also had a problem with my back and foot. My doctor sent me for an X-ray ($20) and it was determined that I needed physical therapy ($20 a visit for 16 visits). For my foot I went to a physiatrist ($30) and received instructions for my PT.
At the same time I was also suffering from a stomach problem. My physician had put me on some medicine previously but suggested that I visit an ENT ($30 a visit) who diagnosed me with reflux. Off the medicine and onto an over-the-counter product only available from England. (It’s about the same price as the prescription.) She also had her allergy specialist do a full testing on me ($30).
The good news: six months later I am feeling well, moving faster, and as a result, have even lost a few pounds. But really, the actual good news is that I have health insurance. Good insurance. And that is only because I am married. I do not receive insurance through my employer. (The state of benefits in Jewish education could be an entire series of posts.)
Let’s review, It’s A Wonderful Life-style, what life might have been like without health insurance:
- I would probably not have had the tendon surgery, which means the tip of that finger would not move and I wouldn’t be able to play guitar for my work or pleasure.
- I would likely have a big scar on my arm, needing to be extra careful in the sun.
- I would continue to walk around achy, avoiding stairs.
- I might have a pre-cancerous condition and be uncomfortable.
- I would still be consuming Costco-sized bottle Tums.
If you think this is unrealistic, read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenerich, still the most accessible view of the working poor.
As our nation’s leaders consider cutting our nation’s healthcare, I can’t help thinking how fortunate I am to have not just access to the care, but the ability to use it. Today I heard a GOP lawmaker saying that people who live good lives are healthy and don’t need care. Hmm. I wonder what Ronald Reagan did to deserve Alzheimer’s disease? (I could think of a lot, but I doubt that Republican would agree.) I’ve heard a lot of double-talk about how people will be able to access healthcare. I can reach out and touch a lot of things; that doesn’t mean I can take them all home. Meanwhile insurance companies make record profits. I simply do not understand the concept of making money on our health and well-being. And it is worth noting that any health insurance that I’ve ever had is due to someone being employed fulltime, either a parent, spouse, or me.
I believe that healthcare is a right for all. As an American, I believe this is a fulfillment of what “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” means. As a rabbi, I could probably find several textual references to prove my point, but for now, I just Googled “Jewish texts, health care” and found:
- Leviticus: Do not put a stumbling block before the blind.
- Talmud: Save a life and it’s as if you’ve saved the world.
- Rambam: Healthcare is the first thing that a city has to offer its residents.
- Shulchan Auruch: One who has medications, and another person is sick and needs them, it is forbidden to raise their prices beyond what is appropriate.
For me, the imperative comes right up front in the Torah. In the creation story we learn that we are created in God’s image. We must treat each other as if each one of us is Godly, a klei kodesh (holy vessel.) That’s the bottom line.
Most times, I might conclude a blog post like this with a prayer ending with the words kein yihi ratzon – may it be God’s will. But in this case, God is only our partner. We are expected to do our part and not just say that we can all access Gan Eden – the Garden of Eden.