Apparently, I have kidney stones, a malady I’ve heard others describe as more painful than childbirth. I’m not sure why I’d be prone to the disease, considering I sit at home most days drinking copious quantities of green tea, water and seltzer, so I’m just going to blame our frustrating lawmakers in Olympia, and the fistfuls of Tums they’ve prompted me to swallow over the past couple months.
The symptoms started about a week ago, but last night was the first time the pain got bad enough to keep me awake. Still, it’s not so bad at the moment, and I hope to get through this without cracking open my prescription of Vicodin. We’ll see.
I mention my ailment, not to elicit your pity, but to point out how stupid our health care system is. According to the NIH, each year kidney stones prompt 3 million visits to health care providers, and half a million people to visit emergency rooms. So it’s a pretty common ailment. And without robust insurance, it’s a pretty common way to find oneself in a financial hole.
If I pass my stones on my own it’s going to cost me only a few hundred dollars in doctors office visits and lab work, but should I require further diagnosis and treatment—CT scans, ureteroscopy, surgery, a hospital stay and follow-up—it’ll cost me thousands of dollars before my deductible is exhausted and my co-insurance stoploss kicks in. And that’s with an insurance plan on which I already pay a couple hundred dollars a month.
I’m sure I’ll manage to get by.
But a lot of families wouldn’t. For many folks, even in good times, five to six thousand dollars in medical expenses could mean the difference between keeping or losing the house, or perhaps, completing a college degree. And for the uninsured, the costs from an ailment as common as a tiny chunk of calcium stuck in your kidney could easily exceed $40,000.
There are those on the right who resent what social safety net we have, and who rail against being asked to pay for the consequences of the poor choices of others. But affordable insurance simply isn’t available to tens of millions of American families, and God knows, nobody chooses to have a kidney stone. So in the end, what good is the best health care available anywhere in the world, when there’s no functional system for providing it?