Forty-five million Americans have no health insurance.
We've heard it so often that we accept it as normal and even acceptable. Our problem is we seldom have reason to bring the statistical reality into our personal experience. Low-income, working Americans deal with this harsh fact on a daily basis.
Consider for a moment what it means for a father like "Charlie," who works over 40 hours every week. He comes home to a wife of fifteen years and three children. He earns less than $10 an hour. His employer provides no benefits--no health insurance for him or his family.
When one of his children gets sick, Charlie's choices are limited. He or his wife can take the child to one of the neighborhood for-profit clinics (read "Doc in a box"), if he can scrape together the money. Or, the child can be taken to the emergency room at a local hospital. Here the wait is long, the cost of care is the highest and, because there is no insurance coverage, the bill for services most likely must be written off as a loss by the hospital.
Add to the family's health care burden the fact that Charlie is diabetic and recently has had severe bouts with kidney stones. Thanks to his uninsured status, the treatment protocol at the local hospital ER is to treat his symptoms with pain medication and antibiotics. He has never been admitted to the hospital for proper care for only one reason: he is poor and cannot pay for the treatment he needs. Adequate testing would reveal that his kidney function is deteriorating.
Charlie's earning power makes the regular purchase of insulin and testing equipment sporadic at best. The entire system, as Charlie knows it, is unfair, inefficient and immoral. His choices are limited at best.
Still, he gets up every morning and goes to work like all good fathers do. No doubt Charlie will die too young and suffer needlessly because the current system is so shaped by free market forces that his needs cannot be met.
Health care is not considered a human right in America today. Rather, it is fast becoming a privilege reserved for the wealthy. Just ask Charlie and the other 45 million in our nation who face some of the same harsh, unjust challenges.
"He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." Proverbs 14:31 (NIV)
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