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To the Politician Who Said 'Nobody Dies Because They Don't Have Access to Healthcare'

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In case you missed the chorus of angry voices roaring, things didn’t go so well at the recent town hall Congressman Raul Labrador held in Idaho to discuss the healthcare bill called American Health Care Act (AHCA), passed by the House of Representatives. An audience member shouted out to Labrador, “You are mandating people on Medicaid accept dying. You are making a mandate that will kill people.”

In response to this concerned citizen, Labrador stated: “No one wants anybody to die, you know, that line is so indefensible. Nobody dies because they don’t have access to healthcare.” If this statement horrifies you the way it horrifies me, well, then you might take comfort in the fact that he was then quickly “booed” off the stage.

My first thought was that I didn’t need to respond to Labrador’s words because surely no one out there could possibly agree that not having access to healthcare isn’t a death sentence for many people. However, a quick glance at many social media responses would prove me incorrect — there are in fact many people who seem to believe that access to healthcare isn’t necessary for life. There are people claiming that you can go to the ER for free care or simply pay out of pocket for your healthcare needs.

I could sit here and recite to you all a bunch of facts and statistics that prove my point, but you can also find those in a bunch of other articles or on Google. Instead, I’d like to share my own personal experiences as a disabled person with multiple chronic illnesses.

On my many visits to the ER, I have noticed a sign they plaster on the walls of each room that states something to the effect of, “You have the right to be treated at this facility regardless of your ability to pay.” That would seem like a comforting thought. I can’t come in having a heart attack only to have them kick me out because I don’t have insurance. However, their only obligation is to stabilize my vitals and no more.

They don’t have to continue to treat me, they don’t have to find the cause of my problem, they don’t even really have to diagnose my issues except to the point where they can identify the immediate threat and end it. Even as an insured person, typically if I go into the ER they check me for anything that could be life-threatening and then send me home with a note to follow up with one of my many specialists. If I don’t have a specialist for the issue I’m there for, then they send me home with a note suggesting some specialists.

This means that if a chronic ailment is threatening my life, the ER is not going to treat it. Many people are discharged from the ER only to go home and die.

For those of you who are still concerned that this dying person showed up to the ER and was able to receive any treatments at all without the ability to pay, you will be comforted to know that this dying person will definitely be receiving a bill. According to the registrar at my latest ER visit, the average cost of an ER visit is $2,000 — 2,500.

What if you can’t pay the bill? Most hospitals have some sort of financial aid assistance which can range from payment plans to forgiveness of debt. The type of aid depends on the hospital. I have participated in payment plans as well as indigent care for different hospitals, as needed. These programs tend to come with a large pile of paperwork that you have to fill out to get approved, which can be confusing and overwhelming. If you aren’t approved, they will demand that you pay the bill in full.

When you don’t pay, because you instead choose to buy food so you won’t starve, your bill will be sent to a collections agency and will bring your credit score down. If you aren’t familiar with credit scores, it’s a set of numbers that tells lenders whether they should lend you money or not. Without a good score you cannot get a house, a car, or even rent most apartments. That one lifesaving ER visit can quickly come back to threaten your livelihood.

Perhaps you can just find a regular doctor instead? Most private practice doctors will not take you on as a patient if you don’t have insurance. Even if they did, the cost of each visit could range from $100 (the least I’ve been charged for a visit) to $300 (the most I’ve been charged for a specialist visit). That’s just for the visit, it doesn’t include any tests, treatments, follow-ups, or medications. Just one of my medicines costs $400 a month without insurance.

Our healthcare system is flawed for many reasons. Personally, I find it a bit backwards to have our healthcare system a “for profit” industry because then it will always be searching for the best ways to optimize profits and limit expenses. That means we get charged more and more while they try to pay out less and less for those benefits we need. Healthcare, to me, is a community service. It is part of the whole point of living in a civilized society.

But in my opinion, the AHCA is a step backwards from where we are now. I believe it is not a step forward for anyone except the people who benefit from less regulations on insurance companies so they can charge more while offering less coverage. It could leave millions of people without access to vital healthcare. And yes, Mr. Labrador, without access to healthcare many people will die. I know because I am one of them.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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Originally published: May 10, 2017
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