Universal Health Care Saved My Life

When I was diagnosed with stage four non-hodgkin’s lymphoma in early 2018, I was fortunate enough to be serving in the United States Air Force which, like all branches of the US military, provides comprehensive, cost-free healthcare to the men and women currently serving.

This healthcare system has two parts. Active Duty service members are enrolled into a system called TriCare which is a membership-restricted, public health-care program. There is also the Veteran Health Administration, often called the VHA or VA, which is for veterans who are honorably discharged or retired.

According to the latest available data, 9.4 million people are covered by TriCare. Another 6 million veterans use VA services each year, with up to 15 million more eligible.

Both systems are a direct reflection of a single-payer or universal health care model often referred to as “Medicare For All” currently at the forefront of political analysis sweeping America. As healthcare costs continue to rise year after year, a majority of the population agrees that America’s healthcare system needs a complete audit and overhaul.

After you are diagnosed with a life altering condition, such as cancer, your line of thinking should be on treatment and survival - not on premiums, hospital bills and how you are going to fund fighting your disease. I was fortunate enough to NOT have to worry about those things.

Let me explain further.

Under the Affordable Care Act, or ‘Obama Care’, I would have been able to stay on my parents insurance until my 26th birthday. To put this into perspective, I was 26 years old while dealing with this cancer fight. If I had not joined the military when I did, I would not have had health insurance and be forced to pay for all of my treatments out of pocket, start a ‘GoFundMe’ or basically wait for the inevitable to happen.

Now, if you know anyone who has or had cancer, you know that treatments are not cheap. For example, a simple PET scan to determine what stage of cancer you have costs upwards of $4,500. Over the one year amount of time I have been fighting this disease, I’ve had more of these scans than I can count on both hands and feet. Another example is when I had a particular chemotherapy regimen performed which required me to stay in the hospital for three days straight with a continuous infusion of medicine. Room and board, food and the medicine for this treatment cost over $40,000. I had to do this chemotherapy twice. That is over $80,000 for two treatments. I did seven other chemotherapy treatments in addition to those two. How much did THOSE chemotherapies cost?

CAR-T cell therapy, which is the treatment that literally saved my life, on average costs between $375,000 to $500,000 depending on which company manufactures the medicine. This is for the medicine ALONE. Not hospital costs or for other drugs which are associated with toxicities of the treatment. How would I ever have been able to afford this without having access to health care through the military?

Now, I am not even going to attempt to calculate a total dollar amount of the treatments I have had done and am currently going through, but you get the picture.

Healthcare is expensive and if you do not have incredible insurance, are in the military or have a million dollars in your wallet, sucks to be you. Why is that acceptable in America?

If I didn’t join the Air Force when I did, I would literally be dead right now because I would not have had insurance nor would I have been able to come remotely close to raising the funds to cover the expenses needed to save my life. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

Under the militaries system I have not paid for anything mentioned previously. Not a single cent.

Before I joined the Air Force, universal health care or socialized medicine in any form, seemed like an ‘off-the-wall idea’ to me. Government health care in any form seems to have a stigma of being oppressive and putting limits on citizens freedoms. Having heard the myths of perpetuous wait times and the inability to find proper care, I was concerned about what this foreign idea that almost every other advanced country in the world offers its citizens might be like in America. But I have found that in many ways I was completely wrong.

Universal health care works. It’s that simple. We need to implement it into the structure of our society and we need to get to work fast.

Now lets rebuke a few misconceptions…

To some current or former military members there is always the argument : “Just look at the VA, the wait times are horrible and the quality of care sucks”.

While that has not been at all true for me personally, I hear it time and time again. I think this is mainly based on geographical locations and access to clinics and services.

However, yes, the current system has its problems and issues which need to be worked out. But, lets keep in mind that the VA is a publicly funded program which is often highly scrutinized by both diplomats and citizens alike because of the demographic they are serving - the men and women who have put their lives on the line to support and defend the constitution and our country. As a nation, we expect a higher quality of care for those that have fought and served this country.

What if we held those same standards to private health insurance companies? I bet they would rate either the same, if not worse. Prior to joining the military, I did utilize private insurance and I went through some pretty awful experiences and paid for things which did not even make sense to me. As a 2016 RAND Corporation study suggested, the U.S. government is capable of providing medical care that’s on par or better than many private alternatives and would also be more cost effective.

The military policy is simple - we have to remain fit to fight, perform our job and be productive. We regularly exercise, eat healthy and, when necessary, have complete access to medical attention to accomplish all of these things.

If you are sick or have a broken bone, you go to a clinic, see an appropriate doctor, get treated accordingly, take any time off work you need and then return to duty.

Injury or illness + access to free healthcare + healing time = Productive Servicemember

Makes sense, right?

All branches of the military know that physically healthy troops work better, are more efficient at their assigned tasks, have higher productivity levels and are more capable of accomplishing difficult missions.

A universal health care system, such as the militaries, would bring forth some of the same results to our nation by having healthy, productive citizens in the workforce without the added stressors of insurance premiums or gaps in coverage upon switching jobs.

But of course, the number one question is always “Who is going to pay for it”?

We are.

That’s right - me, you, your neighbor, the folks down the road, Democrats and Republicans.

Us. Americans. WE will foot the bill.

This is no longer an economic issue, it is a moral issue. We can afford it, we just have to want to afford it.

Some Americans simply don’t think they should have to pay more to ensure coverage for their fellow citizens. Bare in mind who some of these fellow citizens are - teachers, police officers, business owners, farmers, chefs, artists, single parents, etc. All of these professions, and more, equally contribute to our society.

Yet, most of these jobs are not offered any sort of health insurance from their employers. And if they are, it is often overpriced and does not provide adequate coverage. Why should we not be helping each other out? Since when is healthcare more about money or profits for private insurance companies and not the improvement of our society?

While any type of universal health care system will have economic consequences, the associated gains (no longer worrying about bills, payments, coverage loss after a job change, improved productivity, healthy workforce, etc.) outweigh any short-term economic challenges.

If Americans are going to find common ground on public health care, it’s time we start treating this issue as a priority of morality and not an economic issue.

Yes, this is going to cost a lot of money. It will probably raise our taxes. And it will not be perfect at first, but it can be done.

It’s unfortunate that something such as a cancer diagnosis made me realize the enormity of healthcare, its costs, importance and the ability it has to push a society into a more prosperous territory.

I hope that a significant health event does not happen to you to come to this realization. But, if it does, I sure as hell hope you have a damn good private insurance company on your side (hopefully with low deductibles) or a lot of money in the bank. Trust me, you are going to need it until we start making real changes in the system.

***These are my own views and opinions and not those of the Department of Defense or US Air Force. I also do not claim to be a health insurance expert of any kind.*** 

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