The Uninsured

A reader writes:

I am a 25 year old 2nd year law student at a 1st tier law school in New York City.  By no means a lazy person looking to benefit off others hard work.  I am the son of a retired NYC police officer and a retired para-professional (essentially a professional teachers assistant for special education children).  I have no health insurance.

As a full time law student it is expected we won't work, even part time, never mind a full time situation where I might get health benefits.  School offers a health program, but I can't afford it and it doesn't cover nearly enough.  I'm already sitting underneath mountains of debt with no job assurances in front of me, I can't afford to pile any more on even if I could. I haven't had insurance since I left my job as a paralegal at a major firm to attend school.

I will go over only the last year for you to emphasize my point.  I have asthma.  I cannot get my proper medication and have to rely on a friend who's mother  is a pharmacist to steal sample sized daily inhalers for me.  Not only is this embarrassing and unreliable, it costs all of you who do have insurance money.  I have no choice.  A year ago in May I was running on my treadmill to try and beat the asthma naturally and  I felt a twinge in the center of my right foot.  That kept me off my treadmill for 3 months.  I couldn't go get an X-ray or see a doctor.  It cost me a about a week at a Federal Court internship which went on my evaluation at the end of the summer, leading to a negative review.  Luckily the pain has gone away and the long term effects seem minimal.  I am now able to run.

Twice over the past year, once at the end of last summer and once this January, I had a terrible cough of some kind in my chest that wouldn't go away for 3 or 4 weeks no matter what over the counter drugs I tried.  I could not go to the doctor.  I didn't know what was wrong with me.  Each time my girlfriend (a fellow law student who has insurance through her mother) had to lie to her doctor about an ear infection so that he would write her a prescription for antibiotics that MIGHT work for me.  Fortunately they did and besides the chronic asthma my coughing has mostly subsided.  Indeed, this is also embarrassing, unreliable and makes me feel awful asking my girlfriend to lie to her doctor.  I am a firm believer in the old school theory that doctors are to be respected and trusted. 

About 3 weeks ago a  friend of mine was horsing  around and sort of "fake" tackled me from the side.  Unfortunately he didn't know his own strength and up ended me.  I don't know precisely what happened but I guess in attempting to brace myself  upon falling I landed awkwardly on my left wrist/thumb.  It has been in severe pain ever since.  I can't lift things with my left hand.  I can't push of with it.  What I mean is I can't get myself off the floor with it, go to the gym, push anything of weight, and it hurts quite a bit to type this to you right now.  I can't go to the doctor to get it diagnosed or treated.  As an athlete who has had his fair share of injuries and surgeries I fear this one might need to go under the knife.  I will not be able to do that and I fear this injury will be with me in some way for the rest of my life.

Luckily, I am a law student, so I don't have to do any real hard work with my wrist (I'm referring to actual hard labor, law students work very hard, it's just not physically taxing work).  However, I am forced to type all day and that is painful.  But I can't complain...I am getting a wonderful education that should provide me with decent employment the remainder of my life.  But what if I wasn't that lucky?  I once worked in an auto parts warehouse myself.  What if I needed my wrist for work?  I can't help but worry about those people.

This doesn't happen in any other western industrialized nation.  In those places I would have had my X-rays, got my antibiotics from my doctor, and would at minimum know what is wrong with my wrist and be treating it if it wasn't already better.  Andrew, I understand your dislike of your native country's system.  It is not perfect  by any means.  However, it's hard for a person going through these uncertainties every day to sympathize with your position.  I would receive treatment there.  I would be far better off there and so would tens of millions of Americans who have no insurance who go through the same things I'm going through every day.  Most of which forced too because they simply can't afford it, not because they are lazy or mooching off others (I'm not suggesting you say this, but there are those that do). 

I also don't suggest using the U.K. as a model.  Putting aside the fact that citizens there are, if only slightly, happier with their system than Americans and that preventative care is far, far superior in the U.K., I still don’t feel it's the best system.  I would use the French model of combining private competition with public guarantees of essential care.  Most French do have some form of private health insurance, which leads to the competition amongst private companies.  However, the government guarantees 100% of care for certain ailments and situations (asthma being one of them).  This system captures the best of both worlds, innovation and price competition amongst private entities while assuring those who need care that they will have care.  It is the number 1 ranked  system in the world.  Perhaps, that is where we should be looking.

All of these things are more bothersome than most believe.  The mystery of it all, the lack of knowing what is wrong with me is the worst.  Every little ache or pain creates panic because I know I can't treat it and fear what it might be or become.  These injuries and illnesses...I never know if they are really serious or will be OK and gone in a week or two.  It is a great source of stress in my life and embarrasses me to my core.  Seems to me the ability to visit a doctor for a cough or foot pain is essential to human dignity.  It saddens me that we don't give this dignity to every American.