Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2019

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Guest column: Inhumane health care system needs overhaul

Last October, my dad — the epitome of health — lost his life to a stroke.

Everyone in our family was blindsided and devastated by this incident, which brought us face to face with the very thin line between normal family life and emotional and financial catastrophe.

My dad owned his own business and did not have health insurance. After he spent two days in the hospital, during which he was on life support and underwent two MRI examinations, the hospital sent my mom a bill for $69,208.

In the course of 48 hours, my family went from being upper-middle-class to using my dad’s life insurance to pay hospital bills. A life insurance policy was the only thing that saved our family from financial ruin. Absent that policy, we would have had to declare medical bankruptcy.

Our story demonstrated a grim reality in our society: that health insurance is out of reach for many Americans, and health care costs in the United States are dramatically overinflated.

I remember the difficult decision my family faced, exacerbated by the pressing financial implications of keeping my dad on life support. After two days of living with my dad on life support, my family decided to pursue end-of-life treatment.

Unfortunately, a family does not always have the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one. If it does, finances should not dictate the time and place.

These decisions deserve to be made at the family’s discretion and should not be determined by dollars in a bank account. There is no other way to describe the health insurance policy in the United States other than inhumane.

It is heartbreaking to know that my family would not have been able to afford major life-saving treatment for my father. If he had survived, but could not return to work, we would have had no source of consistent income while also incurring thousands of dollars in medical expenses.

And while some people may think that my dad should have bought health insurance to reduce the financial burden of his illness, this simply is not an option for many families.

That being the case, enacting a program similar to Canada’s publicly funded health care system poses a reasonable solution to the financial burdens being created by the U.S. system.

Some people may argue that such a system would increase costs and wait times for care. However, the U.S. spends more on health care than other countries and consistently produces some of the worst health outcomes.

To make health care more affordable and accessible, the first step is admitting that our system is fundamentally broken and that fixing it will require major policy changes.

But while we work toward those fixes, individuals can take actions on their own to avoid a medical catastrophe.

The only symptom my dad had before his stroke was a headache. If he had visited a doctor, perhaps a simple treatment such as a blood thinner would have saved his life. So even if you are in perfect health, it’s important to get routine checkups.

If you feel that something is wrong, even a symptom as minor as a headache, it’s advisable to see a doctor.

Think of it this way: Imagine you’re a 56-year-old who eats a healthy diet, exercises regularly and feels as if he’s in his prime of life. You never expect something as simple as a headache to be a symptom of something more serious, but the next thing you know, you are the victim of a stroke.

This is not the conventional narrative for stroke victims. However, more than 25% of people in the United States will experience a stroke in their lifetime. A sixth of these strokes are fatal, and others often require rehabilitative care. How then, do so few people believe they are at risk of a stroke?

In retrospect, this reflects a common theme in the United States concerning health care. Many people would rather gamble that they will not experience a medical emergency than plan for that emergency.

After my family’s experience, I’d urge everyone to take care of themselves and realize that our health care system needs major improvements.

We have an obligation to fix the structural and economic barriers that prevent people from receiving preventive and regular care.

Madison Frazee is an undergraduate student at UNLV and a student worker for Brookings Mountain West.