In my introduction to this series (yes, over a year ago, but let's not talk about that), I mentioned how health care was one of the first issues that I took a pretty definitive “liberal” stand on. Over the years, it’s become one of my favorite topics to research and discuss. It’s an issue I feel comfortable discussing in detail. Additionally, it's generally more objective and doesn’t have some of the sensitive landmines that other topics tend to have. At the same time, it has been one of the most frustrating as well.
I think one thing most people can agree on is that the system we have had in the past and the system we have now has some serious problems. We aren’t happy with where we’re at, no matter where you land on the political spectrum. It’s easy to say what is wrong with our model. It’s way too expensive. It’s confusing and hard to get answers with insurance. It doesn’t cover everyone.
I would like to think we can agree on at least some basics that we all want. We all want to have affordable health care. We all want to have quality health care that’s effective and efficient. We all want for everyone to be covered. Those three things seem to be the low hanging fruit in terms of agreement. If there’s an objection to any of those three, we likely have a divergence in values that isn’t going to be remedied with any amount of discussion.
However, if I’m correct in my assumption, I think it’s worthwhile to have a sincere discussion about how we can reconcile our differences. We should be able to work together to achieve those three goals. I want to start off giving some more detail about the position I held early on, provide my understanding of the conservative position, discuss my thoughts on the Affordable Care Act, discuss various health care systems around the world, address the arguments against those systems, and then finally make my case for a move to a universal health care system.
This is an issue I care deeply about and I know those of you on the conservative side of the aisle care about this issue as well. You want what is best for you, your families, and the country. We are one and the same in that desire. I implore you to stick with me through this series and be genuinely open to what I have to say. It’s not going to be a light read, but that’s because this is a heavy topic—one that weighs on all of us.
Also, keep in mind that I'm by no means an expert on health care management or health care policy. I'm just a guy who completely changed his views on health care after honestly exploring opposing views and doing some research. Even so, I don't have the arrogance to think I've got it all figured out. I could be wrong on any number of points. If you end up reading this entire series and disagree with what I've had to say, I'd love to discuss those disagreements in a respectful and meaningful way. Having said that, here we go!
So it’s 2009 and we are in the throes of the global financial crisis. The previous summer, I had just graduated from ACU and shortly after married my wife, Laura. I was working as a software engineer at a large energy company for a few months before my dad asked me to work for him at a company he started. Startup life was more to my liking, so I decided to leave my comfortable, yet sterile, corporate job and take up my dad’s offer.
I didn’t have health insurance through his company, so I was on Laura’s insurance through the school district where she taught. From what I remember, it was a UHC plan with a $3000 deductible. Based on the W-2 I for some reason still have from 2009 (not a hoarder), we paid about $200 per month in premiums for the two of us. We were a young, healthy married couple not yet planning on having kids, so our medical needs were very minimal. Personally speaking, it just wasn’t something that was too much of a concern. Although, there was this one particular incident that helped form my opinion at the time about our system.
One day, I noticed that whenever I tightened my quadriceps, I could see a lump that was about the size of a golf ball cut in half. The first place my mind went to was cancer. Totally normal and not at all irrational to go to to the worst possible scenario. I’m not a hypochondriac. So, I went to my primary care physician and she wrote up an order for an ultrasound at the imaging center in the hospital where her office was located.
Naively, I went down to get the ultrasound which took at most 10 minutes. Sometime later I get the bill: $450. I was flabbergasted. How on earth could a 10-minute procedure performed by a tech cost $450? It seemed absurd to me. Then the bill from the radiologist arrived in the mail and it was another $400. I was pissed. The whole thing seemed convoluted with no amount of transparency. Was I ignorant? Absolutely. My doctor gave me some directions, I had a lump that was undoubtedly a cancerous tumor, and I was getting to the bottom of it! Unexpectedly getting hit with a total of almost $1,000 in medical bills was a tough lesson to learn: ask questions and figure out what procedures and tests are going to cost beforehand. This might even require getting on the phone with the insurance company. Although as a millennial, paying the $1000 bill might be preferable.
At any rate, my doctor called to say she received the results and wanted me back in for an appointment. So I went in and she informed me the results were inconclusive. I was seriously about to flip the table. Deep breaths. I calmly told her it cost me almost a thousand dollars so far and she seemed just as surprised as I was. If I recall correctly, she said something along the lines of, “Well if you would have told me your insurance wasn’t going to cover barely anything, I would have definitely referred you to somewhere else.” Basically me at this point:
Well, my apologies for not knowing the intricacies of my health insurance plan having had it for less than a year at this point. Seeing how the ultrasound was inconclusive, Doc wanted me to get an MRI. Before I could object to the absurdity of getting a test that was obviously going to be way more expensive than a mere ultrasound, she assured me she would refer me to a clinic that accepts cash and had much more reasonable pricing.
She left the room for a little bit to make a call, and when she came back she had the good news that the MRI would only cost $150. Additionally, she was referring me to a sports medicine doctor that would read the results and I’d only have to pay my specialist copay. Let that sink in for a second. I had an ultrasound that altogether cost $850 and I was about to get an MRI for an all-in price of less than a quarter of that. It made no sense, but I wasn’t about to argue; I needed answers! So I get the MRI, make the appointment and the sports medicine doctor gave me the great news that it was a build up of scar tissue that was likely from a muscle strain. The most expensive nothingburger I’ve ever ordered.
At this point, you might be thinking, “Big whoop, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not that bad, Jon.” You’re probably right. It didn’t bankrupt me; heck, as DINKs at the time, it wasn’t even that burdensome. But I’d be willing to bet that stories like these can be shared by the majority of households out there. Unexpected medical bills, lack of price transparency, a system that is anything but straightforward and easy to navigate. It’s death by a thousand cuts and we’re not even getting to the truly serious cases. Thousands and thousands of people go bankrupt or die prematurely due to the inability to obtain sufficient care by not affording insurance.
It’s unacceptable that—as the most prosperous nation in the world—a single person goes bankrupt from medical bills or dies due to not being able to afford health insurance. However, at that point in my life, I still hadn’t reached this conclusion. I was absolutely frustrated with the system, but I did not believe that universal care was the answer. In the next post in this series, I’ll expand on that as well as cover the events leading up to the passage of ACA.