Usually I eschew the dramatic and seek a more reasoned approach to any discussion. The passions of any theme will almost always lead away from a rational discussion... but this story is emblematic of the lunacy of our current health care "system", which really has no resemblance to a system at all. And as the Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats scream to "slow down" health care reform, this story is even more poignant.
Kimberly "Kimi" Young (at left), a healthy 22-year-old recent college graduate, got the flu. She was sick with fever and upper respiratory symptoms but delayed treatment because she lacked health insurance and was concerned about the cost. After two weeks her condition worsened to the point her roommate took her to the hospital, where she subsequently died. Died of suspected swine flu.
Okay this is one tragic case and no conclusion about any large population can be drawn from one tiny example in a society of 300 million people.
A recent federally funded Harvard study estimates 45,000 Americans die each year from lack of health insurance. Yes, detractors will say these numbers are spurious even by the most objective analysts, and sure many of those deaths may be people who are already infirm, and yes there are probably many other problems with such a study, but the number is out there.
Even if this number of deaths is inaccurate, the costs of caring for people who live is higher when treatment is delayed. Even if Kimi were to have lived, her delayed treatment was certainly more expensive than the week's worth of oral antiviral Tamiflu that may have mitigated the criticality of her illness had it been administered early.
Americans who have comprehensive insurance or who never get sick just have no idea the insanity of the current US health care "system." Even people with high deductible insurance will ponder what to do when they feel ill. Whenever someone gets sick they sit down and think about whether to get treatment. Why?
No matter how much time an individual takes to think about it, they will never acquire the expertise to triage their medical condition and render the proper care. One 10-minute visit with a doctor or nurse practitioner, or even a phone call to the office nurse, can allay fears and frustrations, or may save thousands of dollars-- and in Kimi's case, maybe even save a life. By constructing hurdles based on financing, we are adding to the extant hurdles we all struggle with in pursuing medical care. Nobody "wants" to go to the doctor: to sit in the waiting room, to talk about their personal issues, to get undressed, maybe get poked with a needle, etc. So why add yet another burden like payment to the mix?
Kimi is gone, and while I hesitate to get all dramatic over this one case, it is a tragedy which was avoidable. A waste... not only for this young woman and her family and friends, but for all of us. Thinking selfishly, we must consider that we will never benefit from the expertise of this college graduate, a seemingly wonderful and productive member of our society. She is gone forever, and all because of the relatively tiny cost of health insurance.
So when you hear Congress debating issues that have long been debated, and calling to table the current health care reform bills, think of the 4,000 people who die needlessly every month, think of Kimi.