Health Insurance: Right, Privilege, or Luxury.

Health Care ReformWhen I was growing up my family never had health insurance. I didn’t even know what it was. I am not sure how my parents paid for my brother’s appendectomy or my trips to the emergency room. Fortunately, our family never experienced any major, prolonged or chronic illnesses that required repeated hospital or doctor visits. My mother was a beautician and my father did odd jobs so there was never much room in the budget for health care.

With the passage and impending implementation of health care reform, there has been lots of consternation about the individual mandate. The mandate states that in 2014 everyone must purchase health insurance or pay a fine at tax time. Some folks have argued that it is unconstitutional to mandate that a U.S. citizen purchase anything, let alone health insurance. Others state that health care is a fundamental human right and only by mandating the purchase of health insurance will we be able to cover everyone.

I suppose it boils down to your perspective of if health insurance is a right, a privilege or a luxury. For my family, back in the 60’s and 70’s, health insurance was a luxury we could not afford. Health insurance was a privilege for those that worked for large corporations, government or unions.

My parents lived to be in their early eighties. However, the last 10 to 15 years were beset with battling chronic illnesses. They had no health insurance until they qualified for Medicare at age 65. Medicare, or socialized medicine for some people, was a blessing to them with regular doctor visits and medication to ease their pains. Mom was able to die at home without too many trips to the hospital.  Dad passed while living in a skilled nursing facility, not an ideal situation.

I often wonder how their lives would have been different if they had access to regular medical care in their 40’s, 50’s and 60’s. Could some of their chronic illnesses been avoided? Without the chronic illnesses, constant doctor visits, hospital admissions, and lengthy stays in the skilled nursing facility, they certainly would have saved Medicare and Medi-Cal lots of money.

Of course, I can imagine my dad screaming bloody murder about being forced to pay for health insurance. However, in the end, all of us paid for his very expensive medical care. At that point for him health insurance was a human right. You can’t let an old man die in the street can you?

Health insurance becomes a ‘right’ when you are dieing, a privilege when you are working and a luxury when you are poor. But there is no argument that the cost of prevention will pay dividends long into the future. I have seen the costs and pain my parents endured and I wish it on no one.