Friday, August 27, 2010

Number 37. Friday, August 27, 2010.

“America's health care system is neither healthy, caring, nor a system.” -Walter Cronkite

When I started my blog, I planned to keep my politics out of it, but I’m realizing that’s going to be hard to do. Politics aren’t just some fuzzy theoretical thing – they affect every facet of our lives. And one way politics affects me personally is in my access to health care.

I’ll say it here: As someone who has a mental illness, I’m very angry that I live in a country that does not have universal health care when ever other wealthy, industrialized nation does. Supposedly, I live in the richest, “best” country on the planet, yet 47 million of my fellow Americans are uninsured, and even many those with insurance have woefully incomplete coverage.

Last year the World Health Organization rated health systems of the world’s nations, and the United States – that shining beacon on a hill – ranked no. 37. Yet the US spends twice as much on health care per capita than any other country, and that amount is expected to increase exponentially over the next decade. America ranks 43rd in lowest infant mortality and 47th in highest total life expectancy. Half of our bankruptcy filings are due to medical expenses.

Singer Paul Hipp has made an amusing video, “We’re Number 37.” The video makes me laugh, but the reality scares me to death. I have a chronic health condition, bipolar, which almost killed me, and it requires expensive medications. My husband also has a potentially fatal chronic illness. Going without health insurance is not an option for us.

But our insurance is connected to my employment, and private insurance is not available yet for someone with our conditions. When I lost a job seven years ago, I had no choice but to continue paying into my former employer’s plan through a program called COBRA – a perfect name. The insurance cost $1,200 per month, and that did not include an additional $600 per month in medication.

I was forced to pay with a credit card. It took me a few months to find a new job with health insurance, and I’ve been paying several hundred dollars a month toward the balance since then; it will take a few more years to pay it off. Now my current employer’s future is in question. God forbid I should have to pay for COBRA again.

Live in another industrialized country? You have the option of starting your own business to support yourself. I don’t. My insurance must be group insurance, through a company, or else it won’t be required to cover my bipolar or my husband’s medical condition.

What’s more, I can’t have my pick of jobs. I could find the perfect position, but if the company has less than 50 people, it might not offer health insurance as a benefit.

A new health plan has passed, and it addresses a few of these problems – but by no means all, and not for several years. Anyone with any illness, whether physical or mental, should not have to live in terror that a lost job would not only mean a lost home but also an inability to get medical care.

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