Who Dies?

Vision Regeneration Summer Program 2010

There’s a story about a couple people I used to work with that feels like it needs to be told. Some of you know I used to work for a nonprofit to keep inner city kids out of street gangs. None of the programs to help kids broke even, and money was always in short supply.  Most who worked there had multiple jobs, and no one had health insurance.

We had a bus driver who didn’t show up for work one day because he had a stroke and died in his home.  It was on the last day of our summer program.  The kids were excited about the closing ceremony when some would perform and they all would get a few school supplies for the start of the school year.  Of course, the kids were aware of the last minute shuffling when the driver no showed, and they were naturally curious about what had happened.  Keith was a big personality and even if he was a little overgenerous with his advice, at least by high school standards, he genuinely cared about those kids and they knew it.  They were sad to learn what had happened.  Incidentally, another bus driver, Arthur, died that same year from untreated cancer.

The gal in charge of the summer program had dangerously high blood pressure.  More than once, especially (and not coincidentally) near the beginning of the summer, panicked co-workers rushed her to the hospital ER with intense chest pain, confusion and blurry vision. ER personnel told her she really needed to be on medication under a doctor’s supervision. She often asked for an advance on her pay.  Her car loan servicer remotely disabled her car ignition when a payment was late, so she needed the advance just to get to work.  I’m not judging her spending priorities or how she managed her money.  I’m just reporting observations on the reality of the situation. Minute clinics cost money. The occasional free clinic that pops up at a church in the hood is helpful for many maladies but not for treating chronic life threatening conditions.

It feels this story needs to be told because yesterday, Romney told the Columbus Dispatch’s editorial board:

We don’t have people that become ill, who die in their apartment because they don’t have insurance.  We don’t have a setting across this country where if you don’t have insurance, we just say to you, “Tough luck, you’re going to die when you have your heart attack.”

As a point of fact, people do die in their apartments because they don’t have insurance. Maybe we have the heart attack emergency covered, but what about managing the hypertension that led to the heart attack? Cancer is up there with heart disease as the two biggest killers in the US. Let us not forget diabetes. Emergency rooms provide acute care, not routine care for the chronic conditions that kill most people in America.

Romney concluded, “No, you go to the hospital, you get treated, you get care, and it’s paid for, either by charity, the government or by the hospital.”  No, in reality, you go to the hospital, they tell you you really need to see a doctor for ongoing treatment, and a collections company hounds you for the ER bill.

Join the conversation.  Do you have a story that needs to be told just to keep it real?

Copyright 2012 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved. Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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9 thoughts on “Who Dies?

  1. Hi Stephanie. Great story. I’m joining the conversation, not because I have a story to be told, but as a means of supporting what you’ve written. It disturbs me when people who have no clue what it is like to be an average citizen of this country makes such non-sensical, uncaring and stupid statesments.
    I’m going to share this on FB and Twitter because what you have written is true.

  2. I routinely receive calls from people who do not have jobs or insurance (or they have a job but no insurance). They can’t get Medicaid for a multitude of reasons. The local hospitals are tired of all the charity cases, and they’ve changed their treatment strategy to minimize emergency care. I see people who can’t afford to treat their medical conditions all the time. And they die from those untreated conditions. It sounds like some politicians are so far removed from the real world that they may not understand how other people live and die. Very sad.

  3. lark’s comment on Death by Ideology via @nytimes http://www.nytimes.com/2012/10/15/opinion/krugman-death-by-ideology.html?comments#permid=175 #
    Some examples of why we need Obamacare, from my personal experience:

    1. My boss, an entrepreneur, during start up phase (in his 30’s) did not carry health insurance. Everything went into the business. He got cancer. Went bankrupt from treatment expenses (a million in the hole). Tried to come back with a new business. Failed. Killed himself.

    2. A brother in law, trying to start a business, began feeling very sick. No health insurance. Everything going into the business. He got sicker and sicker, ended up in critical, now has a health condition much worse than if he had caught it early. Tens of thousands in debt, natch.

    3. A friend’s son, turned away from one ER and sent to another when he needed emergency surgery, died en route. No health insurance. Very treatable condition. In his twenties.

    4. Another friend, congestive heart failure that went untreated for several years until he qualified for Medicare. Will he die earlier as a result? Probably.

    5. A friend of a friend who went for treatment to the ER for pneumonia. He delayed going because he lacked health insurance. It was too late. He died.

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