#139 – Dick Bernard: Part II Real Time Health Care in the U.S. from another perspective

Part I, yesterday’s post, turned out to be a very positive experience. The exam revealed nothing worthy of note – the next appointment in five years. Everything was very efficient and the five medical staff who worked with me were very friendly, from the person who checked me in, to the doctor who did the procedure. The bill, when it comes, will be paid by someone else. All I’ll see is the basic paperwork.
I was apparently the doctor’s last appointment of the day. We rode down in the elevator together and chatted. He’s been a specialist for over 25 years. Not always do procedures go so well. Part of his reality, he said, is the need to deliver sometimes very bad news to patients….
Yesterday’s appointment was at a hospital on the bank of the Mississippi River in Minneapolis. Over 44 years ago, July 24, 1965, at another hospital on the other side of the river, less than a mile from where we were visiting in the elevator, I personally encountered the bad news side of medicine when my then-wife died late at night of kidney disease. She was only 22. We were uninsured. Hers/Ours was the second story I wrote in what has turned out to be a long series on Health Care Reform.
That night I left the hospital – I was there by myself – and went to the local Western Union office in deserted downtown Minneapolis, and sent telegrams to relatives in California, telling them of her death.
My wife had received outstanding care in 1965, but it was to no avail. And we had no insurance.
The very last thing on my mind that night in 1965 was how I’d pay the medical bills. I had a year and a half year old son; three days earlier I’d signed a teaching contract for the fall, so I had a job upcoming, in a town and metropolitan area I’d never lived in or near before. But all those details wouldn’t hit me until a few months later.
First, my car broke down early in the fall. When you have money, no problem. I didn’t. Problem. I needed a functioning car to get to work – both jobs.
In October, 1965, it finally hit me that I would have to file bankruptcy, and I prepared the balance sheet for an attorney (a copy of which I still possess). Succinctly, almost all of my debts were medical bills from one place or another; those debts were almost four times my then-teacher salary.
Not long after that, I got very lucky. North Dakota Public Welfare agreed to pay the largest portion of the bill, which amounted to two-thirds of the total that I owed; and our last local hospital – a community hospital -forgave our bill there. Suddenly the remaining bills became at least manageable. I was lucky because I couldn’t even establish with certainty that we were legal residents of North Dakota. Somebody had to bend some rules.
Life went on, and now I’m at today.
I’ve lived, literally, in both worlds of American Medical Care – the present one where, at least in my case, care is assured and largely paid for; and the one where care is accessed only at some unseen person or committees whim.
In both worlds, the care was and is excellent: I have huge respect for medical professionals. But there was a world of difference.
There is absolutely no excuse for today’s situation where medical care is a privilege and not a right for all; where we engage in endless debate about who qualifies for health care. We have our policy priorities mixed up.
I think that a very substantial part of today’s American medical system – probably a substantial majority – agrees with me on that.