The Economics Of Staying Alive


Last week, as I was wandering the halls of the rehab facility my friend was staying at, after talking with one of the administrators, I said hello to an older woman in a wheelchair. She was just sitting there, doing nothing, and as it turned out she didn’t mind talking and I didn’t mind it either. We spent 10 minutes or so chatting about her life now as an invalid of sorts. She wasn’t cranky but not particularly happy, either. It was a fun conversation.

I would have stuck around, too. I would have placed this lady at around 80 years, although she was sick, so. Could have been somewhere younger, although probably not by much. She’s been around awhile. Me, too.

And I’m sure she has stories, and that’s why I would have listened longer. Everybody has stories.

At the moment, of course, I’m specifically interested in medical stories, since I’m learning so much and not liking any of it, really. The positive aspects (the medical professionals have almost all been skilled and kind) pale a bit compared to the problems.

For one thing, they appear to be severely understaffed. There also seems to be some problems with management structure, just a hint of something amiss in every facility I’ve been around lately. Communication is spotty, things get lost, messages aren’t retrieved.

This is different than nine years ago, when I started down the medical road with my wife. Or I don’t remember it being this way.

What I do remember from 2010, though, was the expense. My wife had lost her employer-based insurance because of a job description change, not unheard of in the ranks of untenured college professors. That sucks, but we’re used to buying health insurance on the open market, both having been self-employed for many years.

But she had a preexisting condition, and back then she couldn’t get health insurance with a Golden Ticket and a note from God. That didn’t stop her brain tumor from growing, which involved multiple MRIs, and if you wish to do the math be my guest.

So nothing is ever going to be the same, not since then, which is bad luck for us but happens. I never raged against the machine, shouted at the heavens, pointed fingers at healthcare executives and their golden parachutes. My wife got sick and had no health insurance. She eventually did, but not before it got painful and life-changing. And insurance doesn’t cover everything.

And yesterday I got a close-up view of modern medicine, when I found out what my friend’s copay for his chemotherapy was going to be (about $3000 per session out of pocket, two sessions per week). It’s not hard to see how people die when they really don’t have to. At a certain age, one might consider other options.

I don’t have answers. Powerful people have been trying to address this for over 100 years, from Teddy Roosevelt to FDR to Truman to Clinton to Obama, and many other non-presidents. The facts and statistics should be enough to persuade even the staunchest libertarian that we’re doing healthcare wrong and most of the world is doing it better, but then this is America’s heel. We’re not like anyone else, we think.

Anyway, my eyes have been opened a little wider. There are huge gaps in the system, but there are ways and people who find those ways to fill them in a bit. I just think there are better things they could do with their time rather than begging drug companies for free medicine so poor people don’t have to die. Maybe that’s just me.

Chuck SigarsComment