Today I attended a lunch for society ladies. Interesting stories always emerge when I tell society people about wanting to work in health policy, and this meal was no exception.
The current display of ignorance was on the reality of being uninsured. The woman I talked with didn't truly understand what it meant to be uninsured until her housekeeper had a health problem and couldn't get seen by a doctor.
She turned to me, "Did you know that if you're uninsured the hospital and doctors won't see you? Isn't that unbelievable? I had no idea! I just thought they'd see you!"
I responded, yes I knew that. Hospitals and doctors are only required to see you if you are in immediate danger of dying or giving birth. And even then they're allowed to bill you for the services you used. There are 46 million people in this country without health insurance, and that's how hard it is for them to get care.
"But we cover kids, right? Kids have insurance."
"Yes, we cover kids. Not that it does a lot of good if their parent is so sick they can't work or if they die. A healthy kid doesn't mean much without a family. So what happened to your housekeeper?"
"Oh, we got her into see [insert well known wealthy KC doc here]. He saw her no problem."
That was the real kicker -- this woman was unlucky enough to be uninsured, but lucky enough to work for some of the wealthiest people in the city, and therefore go in to see a family friend for treatment. If the housekeeper needed surgery or expensive treatment, this family wouldn't help her. Not that they should -- $70,000 is a lot to spend on your housekeeper. But the simple fact that she's employed by them is one major reason she doesn't have health care. I didn't get the impression that the housekeeper was an immigrant. Maybe she wouldn't have been able to find a job that provided insurance -- but she certainly has no chance staying where she is.
It's unbelievable that people in this country still don't realize how serious it is to be uninsured. A member of the upper echelons of Kansas City wealth was shocked, shocked that her housekeeper might not be able to go to the doctor at all. I hope she lost sleep over it.