I have no health insurance. None. My employer does not provide it, because they’re cheap. I cannot afford to purchase it on my own because it is so expensive.

Several years ago, about 2003, I was involved in a semi-serious auto accident that landed me in the hospital. I was treated fairly well at Marian Medical Center in Santa Maria, California, but it was certainly not worth the twelve-thousand dollar bill I received. I could not afford to pay the bill up front, so I arranged to make monthly payments. Being fresh out of high school and working a crappy part-time minimum wage job, it became clear that I could not even afford to make those payments. After several months, after my credit was completely ruined, I was able to secure a grant from Borders (my employer), who paid for the entire bill. Due to some clerical error, my credit was further ruined and I had to spend months proving that I had paid my hospital bill. It was a fucking nightmare, to be totally honest.

Even more recent than that, in early May 2008, I was bed-ridden with a tooth infection. I do not have health insurance, so I never had my wisdom teeth pulled. My bottom right wisdom started hurting me a few years ago, but I ignored it. The pain would come and go, and when it came I would take a lot of aspirin or rub orajel on the area. Well, needless to say, by early May the tooth had become infected and I fell gravely ill. Again, due to the lack of insurance, I stayed in bed, praying the pain and fever would go away. My fiancee (now wife) and her mother watched over me, not realizing that it was my tooth that was the culprit. When my fever reached 104 degrees, my future mother-in-law realized the severity of the situation. Danielle, my then-fiancee, pointed out my swollen throat and face, and knew that it was my tooth. I had complained about it before. They quickly got me up and dressed, and drove me to Marian Medical Center’s Emergency room. Mind you, this was around nine o’clock in the evening.

After waiting nearly three hours in the waiting room, I was finally taken into another room where I would wait another half-hour for the doctor. I saw the doctor for less than a minute, literally. He asked me to open my mouth (which could only open about 3 or four centimeters), flashed a light in my mouth, and then told me to see a dentist. He briskly turned around and left the room. A nurse came in and gave me two Vicodin, then directed us to the billing office. The whole sha-bang cost $800 dollars, hardly worth it. I am still trying to pay off that debt a year later.

The next morning, my future father-in-law took me to a dentist. I quickly sat in the chair and opened my mouth as much as I could. Within that moment, he realized that he could do nothing for my mouth. He called an oral surgeon and made an appointment for me, ASAP. Blessedly, he was a kind dentist who did not charge me a single cent for the visit. I saw him months later at a Red Robin and he was very interested in my recovery. He was concerned, however, that I could still not fully open my mouth. He recommended that I see him again, but I never took him up on that. Again, no health insurance.

At any rate, I was still in a state of intense fever. The Vicodin had long worn off and I was in a lot of pain. My memory of these few days is a bit fuzzy. I was taken then to an oral surgeon named Dr. Slaughter, how appropriate. I was ushered in quickly, but before he would touch me we had to pay the bill up front. I am rather impoverished, so my future father-in-law was kind enough to pay the bill, which was roughly $1,200 dollars. I was given an x-ray, then walked into a room, sat down, and was immediately put under…

I had the most horrific nightmare…

People were falling into a giant pit of flames, where the heat was so intense that their skin melted off their bones. I was amongst those people, set aflame, but still alive, screaming and crying all at the same time…

I heard my name being called from above, and a bright light was obscuring the scene. I awoke slowly and in tremendous pain. The nurses walked me to the office, where I was then given a prescription for Vicodin. Again, the Vicodin was really expensive, and I could not afford it, so my father-in-law to-be paid for it.

The days blurred together. I was riding the crazy wave of a pain fueled fever, which caused me to vomit quite a bit, and gave me the sweats, even though I was cold all over my body. I also could not eat anything without throwing it back up, even water. This was very troubling to those around me, especially Danielle. And when I vomited, I was also inadvertently removing the Vicodin from my body. I had no sustenance, no vitamins, not even very much water, for weeks. On top of that, my fever raged on. Danielle made sure that I had ice packs on my throat and on my chest, in an attempt to bring down my body temperature, which remained above 100 for about two weeks. I wanted to die.

By the middle of week three, my temperature had come down a bit, and I was able to drink liquids, but nothing solid. Even if I had wanted to, my mouth could not open wide enough to eat anything. I could not even talk, due to my swollen throat and jaw. I had lost a lot of weight, unfortunately, as well. I was also really weak, still bed ridden. By week four, I was still feeling ill, in pain, could not open my mouth, but I was able to sit in the living room and watch t.v. I had no news for so long!!!! I had also missed a lot of work, which cost me a lot of money as well. I used my time to think about the wedding, which was in July, and I spent a lot of time reading. By this time, my Vicodin had run out, and I was having to take a lot of aspirin. It was by the end of week four that I started spitting out disgusting blood and puss that began to seep from my surgical wounds. As I continued to ice it, the swelling came down. By the end of week five, I was relatively ready for work. My jaw was still not able to open all the way, but I was able to stand up and talk, somewhat. My fever was gone and I was relatively healthy. Either way, I had missed too much work and needed to go back. By this time, I had a minor beard going on and I looked more pale and thin than I had ever been in my life. People at work had no idea what had happened to me, and they were shocked by my appearance. I was also unable to talk clearly, due to my jaw still being a bit swollen. It would take weeks before I could open my mouth all the way and eat real food. My weight and strength came back with time.

Thus is the state of the U.S.’s health care industry.

If I had adequate health care coverage, my credit would not have been ruined, taking me more than five years to recover. If I had adequate health care coverage, I could have had my wisdom teeth pulled, or had my tooth looked at before it had gotten infected. I have not had a physical in probably a decade, God only knows what else is wrong with me. I am not the only one. Millions of people suffer as I do. To be exact, in 2008 the figure was 46 million. 62% of bankruptcy claims in 2007 were directly related to health care costs, even though ā€œ77.9 percent of those bankrupted by medical problems had health insurance at the start of the bankrupting illness, including 60 percent who had private coverage.ā€ The figures are staggering, and I have not the patience to cite them all… maybe just a few…

National Health Care Spending

* In 2008, health care spending in the United States reached $2.4 trillion, and was projected to reach $3.1 trillion in 2012. Health care spending is projected to reach $4.3 trillion by 2016.

* Health care spending is 4.3 times the amount spent on national defense.

* In 2008, the United States will spend 17 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on health care. It is projected that the percentage will reach 20 percent by 2017.

* Although nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured, the United States spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, and those countries provide health insurance to all their citizens.

* Health care spending accounted for 10.9 percent of the GDP in Switzerland, 10.7 percent in Germany, 9.7 percent in Canada and 9.5 percent in France, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The Impact of Rising Health Care Costs

* National surveys show that the primary reason people are uninsured is the high cost of health insurance coverage.

* Economists have found that rising health care costs correlate to drops in health insurance coverage.

* Every 30 seconds in the United States someone files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a serious health problem.

* A new survey shows that more than 25 percent said that housing problems resulted from medical debt, including the inability to make rent or mortgage payments and the development of bad credit ratings.

* About 1.5 million families lose their homes to foreclosure every year due to unaffordable medical costs.

* A survey of Iowa consumers found that in order to cope with rising health insurance costs, 86 percent said they had cut back on how much they could save, and 44 percent said that they have cut back on food and heating expenses.

* Retiring elderly couples will need $250,000 in savings just to pay for the most basic medical coverage. Many experts believe that this figure is conservative and that $300,000 may be a more realistic number.

* According to a recent report, the United States has $480 billion in excess spending each year in comparison to Western European nations that have universal health insurance coverage. The costs are mainly associated with excess administrative costs and poorer quality of care.

* The United States spends six times more per capita on the administration of the health care system than its peer Western European nations.

Well, maybe that was a bit more than a few, but it is still staggering. That is why our country seriously needs health care reform. Republican’s shot down the Clinton’s attempt in 1993, and since then our health care crisis has worsened dramatically. Health care coverage is a basic human right, but Republican’s are so interested in keeping the status quo and in allowing the heath care companies to dominate the market for their own profit, and at the expense of the American people and their health. Martin Luther King once remarked that “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.” He was absolutely right.

There is a health care bill going through Congress now, known as HR 676. I urge everyone to call their representative and demand action; demand that they support your right to health care coverage.

Call: 1-202-224-3121

Or find their e-mail at: www.votesmart.org

HR 676 will provide everyone automatic coverage for life for every American, and it will cover dental, vision, and prescription drugs. And despite Republican claims, you will be able to choose your own doctor and hospital. It will also have the added bonus of creating new jobs reducing health care costs for businesses. In having everyone covered, prices will drop, and CEO’s and faceless corporations will not have the ability to control your health care. We will have our health care in our own hands. Time and time again, Republicans claim government bureaucrats will control your health care, and they paint that as a negative consequence. I think that is a false choice: either have the government in control of health care, or have no coverage at all. I think most Americans would rather have coverage. Not only that, but I trust the government to handle heath care far more than I trust a greedy CEO, or a money grubbing board of directors, or anyone else looking to make a buck on my misfortune.

Now is our time. Now is our moment to take health care coverage out of the hands of the selfish few and share it with all Americans who are so desperate for care.

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