Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Uninsured, Unwanted, Unworthy?

Academic journal article The Hastings Center Report

Uninsured, Unwanted, Unworthy?

Article excerpt

Moments after being struck by the other vehicle--while the pint or so of blood I was in the process of losing was spitting from my forehead, nose, and chin; while I was beginning to notice that my right knee had gone numb and that the right femur had separated from the hip joint--the first clear thought I had was not, "Thank God I'm alive." It was not, "This pain is unbearable." It was, "I don't have health insurance." I was vividly conscious, in agonizing pain--and thinking about how the astronomically high costs of contemporary American health care were about to begin spiraling around me.

As EMS wheeled me through the hospital corridors, people didn't say, "Are you all right?" "How is the pain?" "Don't worry, we're going to help you." Instead, they corroborated my own ludicrous, dehumanized response to my life-threatening condition. They asked, "Sir, who is your health insurance carrier?" They asked, "How are you going to pay for treatment?" When I mustered enough motor facility to stammer (with profound shame and guilt) that I didn't have health insurance coverage, they looked at me in what seemed to be dismay, disapproval, disgust perhaps. In the chaos around me, as people were ministering to my immediate needs, I fervently hoped that they would do their best--that I would be given appropriate care--even though it seemed that I had already been branded as an illegitimate, non-health-insurance-carrying interloper who had the consummate effrontery to pose as a desirable, which is to say income-producing, patient.

During my two-and-a-half-week stay in the hospital, I received uniformly excellent treatment, for which I shall always be grateful. But my overall impression is that throughout my stay, there was a continuous onslaught of doctors, interns, and residents rushing into my room to peer at me and talk about me, then rushing out again. No one seemed in any way interested in inquiring after my physical, mental, or emotional state. No one sought to sympathize with me. But I was accosted at least twenty times with the question, "Sir, who is your health insurance provider? …

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