On December 5, 2007 I fell and broke the little hip ball-joint off the top of my leg. My bike had been pointed up a steep concrete ramp from the parking basement of an office building in downtown Seattle. When I started to dismount and walk up the ramp, my foot got caught on the high bar of my bike and over backwards I went. I was immediately wrapped in a cocoon of nice people wanting to help, so I gave them my Group Health Coop number. Someone immediately phoned an ambulance which, within minutes, delivered me to Virginia Mason Hospital.
“I’ve heard that old ladies die of broken hips, I said to one of the nurses while I lay on the gurney waiting to be X-rayed.
“Yes, but I’ll tell you one thing for sure,” she said. “You won’t.”
I knew without asking that this positive prognosis was based on two facts:
1) I am a bicyclist and therefore in better than average health for an old lady and
2) I am privileged to be a member of Group Health, one of the finest medical programs south of Canada.
The day after I fell, a competent human body mechanic/orthopedic surgeon made a tidy ten inch incision in my leg, tossed out the useless ball joint, and replaced it with an artificial one. The day after that a physical therapist came to my room, showed me how to use a walker, and began teaching me to climb stairs with it. The day after that, I went home and independently ascended the two flights of stairs into my house. On February 24, 2008, less than three months later, I went back into business as an old lady on a bike, doing my shopping, errands, going where I need to go.
Group Health’s total invoice to me was $330. I didn’t have to pay anything for the operation or physical therapy, but there was a $100 per day co-pay for each of my three days in the hospital totaling $300. The $30 was for the walker. It was all very simple, no red tape, no paper work. For a normal office visit I pay $10 at the counter, no questions asked. Confusing invoices rarely come in the mail.
So why can’t every poor cyclist who falls off a bike in this country have such complete and hassle free medical care? Nearly every industrialized nation in the world provides that for all their citizens.
The answer is that in America health care is corporate business. So if you can’t pay, you can’t have it. Wealthy insurance companies have plenty advertising dollars to make sure we won’t get a public option, let alone a good single payer system to compete with their money making racket. In the days of Hilary Clinton’s sincere efforts to fix health care, these companies spent millions to scare people with the propaganda that allowed them to take over.
By the time President Obama came on the scene, a lot of people had awakened to the obvious truth as fewer and fewer people could afford health care. Lots of people had figured out we were not going to get affordable health care as long as we were confined the mercy of the corporate insurance system But back came the insurance industry with more scare propaganda, telling people that with a new universal system that includes a public option, they will lose what they have.. Actually these companies are the ones afraid that they will lose what they have, namely a corner on the market wherein they can name their price. Lately we’re hearing that the answer lies, not in the public sector, but in private coops like Group Health. I’m sorry, but Group Health, though wonderful, is by no means affordable for everyone. It costs a sizeable portion of my pension.
Republican protesters interrupting town hall meetings don’t care about the millions of Americans who can’t afford health care. They only want to prevent Democrats from accomplishing anything so vitally necessary and therefore popular as quality, affordable health care for all, something that would bring this nation up to par with so many others. That would strengthen the Democrats whom that see purely as opponents, not as co-workers in the effort to govern. But maybe the donkeys will thumb their noses at the elephants and pull it off on their own. That would be reassuring because all this hullabaloo makes our system of government look as clumsy as an old lady falling backwards from her bike down a concrete ramp.