I had the esteemed pleasure of using a walk-in health clinic and ER services last week in Park Slope, Brooklyn–literally the richest and whitest neighborhood in Brooklyn. It was, dare I say it, one of the worst medical experiences I have ever had, only seconded by the last time I had to go to this same ER this past July. What I concluded pretty quickly from this terrible 18 hours was that healthcare services in the US are horrific, and that’s putting it kindly.
I was having the somewhat terrifying symptom of not being able to breathe for three days, each day getting markedly worse. However, I also stopped having health insurance as of January 31st, 2017. We signed up for healthcare on the marketplace by the deadline, however, actual coverage does not take effective until March 1st. Perfect. So you may be asking yourself, “Did you wait until you thought you might be dying before you went to the doctor because you knew it was going to be a billion dollars?” I sure did. My symptoms became severe enough that seeking medical treatment, despite the cost, was inevitable. I thought maybe I needed a chest x-ray or possibly I was developing adult onset asthma. But, I’m not a doctor so I needed one to decide that for me.
I went to the walk-in clinic closest to my home and assume I’m going to leave with a diagnosis and maybe some steroids or something. Not so much. They tell me they think that I am having a pulmonary embolism and I need to go to the ER immediately. Doesn’t that sound pretty fucking scary. I have heard about this happening to women who are smokers who use hormonal birth control, or people who have heart issues and take long flights, or sometimes they just randomly happen. Regardless, I really didn’t want to take any chances, so I went down the street to the world-renowned New York Presbyterian Hospital ER. If you have not had the chance to go here, you simply must, because it is the worst hospital I have ever been to, hands down. I have never heard of a hospital getting poor Yelp reviews, but this one did– I had plenty of time to research it while I was there for 18 straight hours.
I was admitted into the breathing and asthma treatment area. I had been in this space before and this was where they usually had you seated before they bring you into an exam room. I was given oxygen through a nose tube and I immediately started hyperventilating, which I have never had before, so I pretty much thought I was having a heart attack and dying. All of my limbs went numb and I thought I was going to pass out. They gave me a breathing mask, but I remained in this open receiving area while all of this was happening. I was able to calm my breathing but was still experiencing all of the symptoms I had that brought me to the ER initially and was becoming more and more freaked out. While this is happening I essentially have an audience of the entire ER watching for hours on end.
About an hour passes and I’m still hooked up to this breathing machine with no further instructions. A nurse comes along and very ineptly administers an IV tube for me. He had to switch arms because he “screwed up” the other one, which felt amazing, by the way. Nothing like getting a giant needle twice. Over the course of the next few hours I’m hustled in and out of this chair that I’ve been stuck in to have contrast dye and a CT scan to look at my lungs, an EKG, a urine test, a blood test, a nebulizer, an IV with a potassium drip, all with no follow-up or resolution. By 8pm they decided that they were going to hold me overnight. At this point, I had been in the ER for a solid 8 hours, sitting in a chair, with no privacy for my medical care whatsoever. The entire ER looked like a Civil War hospital. Every single room had 2 people in it. People were on stretchers left in hallways in vestibules, out in wheelchairs and left for hours on end, people were moaning and screaming while staff walked right past them as though they were invisible. I really had no desire to stay in this sad, gross place. But no one else wanted to be there either, including the medical staff. This is what has become of the system of healthcare in our country.
The people getting care through the ER had many things in common: they were poor, predominantly non-white, old, non-english speaking, but most importantly, they all had terrible healthcare. This is literally the only place they can get medical service because this is one of the few places that cannot turn down your medical coverage. Seriously. My husband and I signed up for coverage, as I mentioned before, and it is $1,000 PER MONTH for some of the shittiest medical coverage I have ever had. We still have to reach a $3,000 deductible before most major medical expenses will be covered. And we can barely afford this piece of shit healthcare, which adds insult to injury. But we don’t want to get a fine for not being insured and risk something like my medical emergency from happening and having no coverage at all.
New York did expand Medicaid but the maximum your household can make is $33,460– which by the way absolutely no one could live off of in New York City. This is also coupled with the fact that many insurance companies left the healthcare marketplace the second year of the ACA implementation, so there is less choice and rates are higher to mitigate the fact that so many people with preexisting conditions must be covered by these insurers. So I find myself in the position that I am sure a ton of people are at this point– I make “too much money” for Medicaid, which is hilarious, because my income is zero, but it is based on my income from last year, so we are not “poor enough” for Medicaid. And now, when these bills come in from the hospital, I will have a shit ton of debt because I couldn’t afford the coverage I need to keep me from going to the ER in the first place.
The problem with the Affordable Care Act is that is isn’t affordable– for anyone. For the people who need coverage the most, they would still qualify for Medicaid, and while expansion is good, it still puts the burden of the cost on people like me. People who have private insurance through employers are not getting consistent coverage; one employer may offer excellent healthcare while another might not, but there isn’t anything to regulate the quality. Doctors have to pack in patients so they can bill enough to earn a living– even more so if they take the lower quality health care coverage, which is every single provider on the healthcare exchange–they ALL suck. Not a single provider got a user rating greater than 3 out of 5 stars. I wouldn’t even eat at a restaurant that got such so-so ratings. For this kind of money, why is the healthcare so bad?? And really, why the fuck am I accepting this terrible health coverage without putting up more of a fight?
I am not anti-government healthcare, don’t get me wrong, but I do think that a single-payer system would be much more efficient and effective. You don’t have to figure out which doctors take your insurance or if you have a deductible to meet and for doctors and providers there is less paperwork and hassle about getting paid. I can actually choose which doctor I go to and the cost for services are the same across the board. No one is winning here– so why are we continuing along this path?