21 September 2010

A Personal Experience With For Profit Health Care

I have never felt strongly about the health care debate in the United States, that is, beyond the ridiculousness of the media here insisting on calling single payer (government), still for profit health insurance systems socialism. 

I have always considered people that advocate for leftist health plans as allies in the struggle against big capital, but not given the issues much thought beyond that. 

This changed today.  I have a bad cold at the moment, nothing serious, just enough to drive me to visit a primary care doctor for the first time in a couple of years.  Due to an administrative lapse on my part I did not re-enroll for my insurance until the beginning of last week.  My insurance had lapsed at the end of July. Therefore, I am covered, but the pharmacy has no record of that, since I have not yet received my new insurance card.  Attempting to fill the two prescriptions that I was given at the doctor this morning I was presented with a bill of $370.  $320 for the branded drug, and $50 for the generic. 

I understand the theoretical underpinnings of patent protection for drug developers and intellectual property in general, but this does not at all explain a $50 price for the generic drug (and the excessivness of $320 on a patented drug for a drug company making billions is a whole separate issue). 

I don't have the energy for a long theoretic post here, suffice to say that I now understand how serious the American health care debate is.  Sometimes it takes a personal experience to open one's eyes.  It is frankly shameful that a developed, wealthy nation would allow something like this to happen to its citizens every day.  In theory I could afford a one time loss of $400 but that is really not the point.

As it turned out, I was able to solve the issue and gain my prescriptions for a reasonable price (after wasting half of my work day on the phone). The more important issue here is with the people in this country who do not have coverage.  There is no reason why the US should not have universal prescription coverage, especially considering that per capita we take more drugs than any other country in the world.   I worry what would happen to friends of mine who own their own businesses (one especially comes to mind) who chose not to purchase private coverage at a price in excess of $5000 a year if they did become sick. 

How can we expect small businesses to be the engines of economic recovery when one moderate health concern would sink almost all small businesses into bankruptcy? 

I suppose my ignorance and (over)reaction to how serious the failing of the American health system really is can be chalked up to living in Canada until I was 20 years old, and my privilege and luck of having jobs that have provided coverage since becoming an American.  I know their are many problems in the treatment of the American working class in this capitalist system, I just am shocked (and appalled at the risk of sounding overly dramatic) at how serious this one is.  I find it disgusting that in a country that can spend more per capita on health care than any other in the developed world would have hundreds of thousands of people out there who can't afford basic prescription coverage. 

Add one more to the problems of capitalism, but then again, people who are worried about where their next meal will come from are too busy to start a revolution and I guess people who can't afford basic health care are too sick to start a revolution so all of this should not have come as such a surprise to me.

Finally, I realize that I sound ignorant of a major social problem in the country that I live in by posting this, but I think it is important enough to share my experience that my ignorance is worth exposing in this case.

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