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“I Am Buried In Bills”: How Under The US Health System, The Patient Always Loses

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In August of 2023, I was hit by a car while riding my motorcycle home from the gym, severing my spinal cord at L1. I’m now a paraplegic and permanently disabled, living most of my (mobile) life in a wheelchair.

Despite having “good insurance” my experience has been anything but stellar. After the spinal fusion to put my spine back into place, I waited in the hospital for over a week and a half as insurance figured out if I would be covered for transfer to Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, which would teach me to navigate using a wheelchair.

While I waited, in an incredible amount of pain, the nurses were constantly understaffed, and couldn’t pay enough attention to me and their other patients. They took far too long to address my needs:, my need to be cleaned, catheter container to be emptied, etc., making my experience in that hospital (ironically named Resurrection Ascension) as close to a living purgatory as I’ve experienced. This is the logical result of a healthcare system that underpays and overworks its workers while the hospital bosses & owners make millions. 

Eventually I was transferred to Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, an amazing hospital and rehab facility specializing in spinal cord injury. But as I recovered and worked with physical therapists, I’d soon learn that despite having “good insurance” through my wife’s work, that Blue Cross Blue Shield was trying to kick me out of inpatient rehab a full 3 weeks early. This was obviously a huge stressor for me and my wife, as we had to scramble to get equipment for me to be able to go to the bathroom and shower at home. My physical therapists also scrambled to teach us how to roll me up the stairs in my wheelchair to our second floor apartment.

They sent me home in a “loaner” wheelchair that was not remotely suitable for moving or commuting through an urban environment like Chicago. As I struggled with this wheelchair, the insurance dragged their feet on every line item (including air-filled tires!) for weeks and weeks. My doctor was thankfully able to push back on them to get everything included for no out-of-pocket cost, but even this is a ridiculous process. In the “peer to peer” process, the insurance’s doctor-for-hire calls and argues with your doctor for what you do and don’t need. And if your doctor doesn’t pick up the phone when they call (from a random number), your case is automatically forfeited. 

I’m now doing physical therapy weekly and continuing to manage and advocate for my care as I work from home. The best case scenario under this for-profit medical system, with “good insurance” like mine, now has me fielding bill after bill for the medical and rehabilitation services that were rendered the day of my accident and continue to be rendered.

I am now absolutely buried in bills. I have a pile of bills that I address when I have the time and energy, and still the pile continues to grow. I’m indebted to a myriad of hospitals and third-party services across the board, and keeping track of the amount of debt and debtors is a task that makes my head spin.

We desperately need universal healthcare, and a medical system that operates for the benefit of the people, instead of profiting off of our misery. At every point in my recovery from an accident that dramatically changed my life, my wife and I have had to split our attention between the actual tasks of recovery and navigating a system that seems hellbent on bankrupting us. This is to say nothing of the experience I would have had if I had worse insurance, or was uninsured. 

Every day we don’t have Medicare For All in this country, people are being completely taken to the bank by the for-profit healthcare system. We need to build a mass movement to win it, powered by the millions of people like me who have been totally raked over the coals, and by the organized labor of healthcare workers who are capable of using their strike power to shut down this rotten system. Public, single-payer healthcare in Europe wasn’t the result of some benevolent government – workers won it themselves, and we can too.

Capitalism won’t heal our sickness or heal our injuries – we have to fight to build a system that will.

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