I work as a family physician at a health clinic that serves as the safety net for our community. I take care of the working poor, the uninsured, the unemployed, and the elderly. I take care of people who have just been released from prison, people with mental illness, people with disabilities, and people who do not speak English. I take care of the poorest and the most forgotten individuals of our society. I do so because I believe that all individuals deserve health care. And I believe that the moral character of our country is measured not by what we do for those with money, power, and a voice – but rather, by what we do for those who are poor, silent, and forgotten.
Each day, I see people who are forced to compromise their own health because they do not have adequate finances or health insurance. People who are unable to afford all of their medications experience unnecessary heart attacks, strokes, and asthma flare-ups. People who are unable to afford doctor visits and medical evaluations suffer dangerous delays in diagnosis. Curable cancer becomes metastatic. A small wound on the foot becomes an amputation. Mild kidney problems become a lifetime of dialysis.
I struggle to understand how hard-working people can suddenly lose their health insurance at the whim of downsizing employers and companies. And I am perplexed that good people can lose their homes and life savings due to the high cost of health care and a lack of health insurance. The stories I hear from patients on a daily basis are enough to burden the heart for a lifetime.
I grow weary of hearing myself give two-tiered answers to patients: “If you have insurance, we have the following options…; if you do not have insurance, I would recommend….” The distinction between the have’s and have not’s in health care is dramatic. For my patients, having or not having health insurance is the difference between controlled diabetes and a midnight trip to the emergency room for vomiting and dehydration caused by dangerously high blood sugars. It is the difference between a simple hernia operation and a lifetime of disability. It is the difference between preventing a stroke and having a stroke. For my patients, having or not having health insurance is the difference between a peaceful night of sleep and a sleepless night of worry.
I recently traveled to a country where people earn one third of the average American income. However, all of the people in that country had health insurance. I am embarrassed that our great nation has not been able to provide health care for all of its citizens. I pray and hope that this will soon change. And by continuing to take care of the poor and the forgotten individuals of my community, I hope to stir the collective conscience and compassion of our nation to do the same.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.