This. This story I am about to tell you right here is why we need universal health care in America. And also why we need to stop spewing meaningless phrases around like “personal responsibility” as if building a ridiculous word-salad is the key to solving the problem.
I have been looking for a good job with benefits, a living wage and insurance for nearly 3 years. In the meantime, I have worked other places because not working is not an option. I finally, FINALLY got a job offer from a large, respected hospital to work as a receptionist in one of their clinics. Good hours, good pay, health insurance, vacation time, etc. I was beyond excited. It should not have been so difficult for someone with a college degree and good work history having worked for the state and a large multi-national law firm to find such a job but it is what it is. In August I went camping and while doing so injured my knee. I saw a doctor at urgent care about a week later and they x-rayed the knee. Told me it wasn’t broken. Yeah, thanks. I was told I should probably see an orthopedic but I did not because I did not have insurance and could not pay for it. The knee improved. It no longer hurts all the time. It really only hurts when going up or down stairs. But not so much I can’t do it. I live in the second floor apartment and do it all the time. Fast forward to my pre-employment visit today. I had to take a mandatory drug test, give proof of immunizations, have a TB test…all those fun things. I had 12 pages of paperwork to fill out ahead of time. There was one section that asked if you have any problems with your legs, knees, feet or ankles. I wrote down briefly about my knee injury and the pain with stairs. I didn’t think it was relevant but the paperwork stressed in several places that if you were found to have deliberately left things out, you could be later fired. Of course, I don’t want that.
Imagine my surprise when I was told that I would need to see a doctor and provide them with a note saying I was okay to work, what the injury to my knee was diagnosed as and if I have any work restrictions. WHAT? I’m going to be sitting for work! It doesn’t take a pain-free knee to sit, answer the phone and be pleasant and helpful. Worse than that, I was told it would likely affect my start date. They only do orientation every 2 weeks. So if I missed Oct 14th I would be pushed back to a November start date. I’m not even totally making rent now! So I think, I’m going to make this happen NOW. I call my primary care right away. Oct. 11th is the best they can do for me for an appointment. I go to a public health clinic that is done on a sliding scale basis, because I am uninsured. It is impossible to get a quick appointment there. So I decide I should contact the Urgent Care center I went to and see if I can get the documentation I need. I call there, I get cut off and told to speak with the record department. The record department tells me they can’t help me, I need to talk to urgent care. *headdesk* I quickly realize that trying to go either of those routes is going to take more time than I have. I come up with another plan: I will go to urgent care in a different city and get an “okay for work” note. DONE. I go into an urgent care facility. They now have a policy that if you are uninsured you must pay a $150 deposit to be seen. GAAAAH! I don’t even have $150 to give anyone. I am told there that I can go to the ER and be seen without any payment same day.
Yes, the Emergency Room. Where I know the wait will be longer. The end cost will be more and I will take the time and resources of health professionals away for my ridiculous knee, as people with heart attacks or other serious illnesses/injuries. But if I do not go and try to get the documentation I need right away I run the risk of losing this job offer or at least delaying the start of position AND the availability of my health insurance through that position. Not to mention the issue of not making rent on time. I feel trapped. I had worked and fought for too long to let this delay stop me. So I went to the ER.
At the ER I waited for 2 hours before being seen. Around me were people far more sick or hurt than I was and yet, there I was with pretty much no choice, despite my best efforts. The physician’s assistant had no trouble giving me a note that said I could go back to work with no restrictions. The knee hurts on stairs but it has full range of motion, I’m no longer limping on it and was never unable to walk on it. So I get the note…but it doesn’t say what my diagnosis is. I tell the nurse I NEED this information, as per instructions. She consults with the PA again and says that due to HIPPA privacy laws they legally cannot put in a note to an employer or potential employer what the diagnosis is. They can only give a return to work/time off work instruction and any relevant work restrictions. Did you get that? It is literally impossible for me to get what I was told I need. I was told that if they need a “diagnosis” I should show them my discharge paperwork.
This Ladies and Gentleman, is why we need universal health care. Because it effects EVERY part of your life. Because the issue is not as simple as, just get a job with insurance. Because you can do everything you are supposed to, do everything the right way, get lucky with a good job offer and have it snatched away from you over something as stupid as a fucking sprained knee. A knee that you don’t even need in perfect condition to do the job they want to hire you for. If I had insurance, I would have seen an orthopedic as the first urgent care doctor recommended in August. I would have complied with whatever treatment I was told to do. It actually might not even hurt at this point. Certainly, it would have been easier to get the note I wanted. Call them up and ask them to write it. But I couldn’t. Because I had no insurance. Instead, I went to urgent care for initial treatment and while the knee improved it did not get completely better. Then because I am honest and planned to use my insurance (which I get after 30 days employment) to see an orthopedic if necessary I filled out the pre-employment paperwork with the details of my injury. I, in every single way, was TAKING RESPONSIBILITY for myself, for my injury for my health care for my needs in this country. So you see this argument about “personal responsibility” being something that “those people” need to learn or telling people like me “if you want health care, get a job!” is in every way possible a big, fat crock of SHIT. Doing things the “right” way, guarantees nothing. It doesn’t mean you necessarily get a good job, or health insurance. And if you manage through a combination of your own efforts and serendipitous timing, to get these things it only takes one small thing to threaten to derail it all. I didn’t want to sit in the ER tonight for 3 hours to get a note for work that may or may not be deemed good enough to salvage my start date. I didn’t want to run up yet another medical bill I can’t pay. I didn’t want to take resources away from very sick or very injured people to deal with my problem. But I had to. And I had to so I could earn for myself the things that conservatives believe that liberals like me want “just handed to them.” I don’t want anything handed to me. I am willing to earn and fight tooth and nail for what I have. The fight for these things, the earning of these things is not as simple as you believe. Navigating life as a responsible employed person with insurance and a decent income is not simple. It is not a straight line. I have debated this in the past. I have tried to explain compassion to selfish, greedy, judgmental people in reference to this topic. I’m done. From now on, after this, if I hear that shit I’m going to do what I should have done from the start: I’m going to call them selfish, greedy, hateful assholes and tell them to shut the fuck up. Because if you have your decent job and your health care and your kids taken care of and your retirement invested and all your T’s crossed and your I’s dotted and are going to try to tell me you did that shit all on your own you would deserve being called exactly what you are.