She said her insurance wouldn’t cover her oxygen.
I didn’t believe her. She needed it. She had an irreversible lung disease that made walking a block feel like a hundred-yard sprint. It was no trouble showing she needed it– her blood oxygen levels would drop below 85 percent with any activity (normal levels are between 95 to 100 percent). Surely this was a minor administrative hurdle. I told her I was confident that now that she had been hospitalized, it would be easy to get her oxygen authorized.
Unfortunately, I found myself coming back the following day having to tell her she was right. Her insurance company considered oxygen a “durable medical equipment,” and wouldn’t cover it.
With Obamacare well into its eighth year, it’s obvious that we still have a long way to go to achieve the universal coverage and health care accessibility that was promised. This was true even before the current administration took over. There are still an estimated 28 million uninsured individuals and 41 million individuals under-insured. We still live in a country where a 27 year old dies because he cannot afford insulin to treat his diabetes. We still live in a country where victims of a nightmare mass shooting must rely on GoFundMe campaigns to pay for their medical bills.
A single-payer health care system would change all this. My patient, while choosing her health insurance, wouldn’t have to weigh the possibility she would need oxygen years down the line when choosing insurance options offered by her employer. She wouldn’t have to learn the nuances of insurance policy, which categorizes home oxygen therapy and a shower chair in the same category. She wouldn’t have to quit her job and spend down her savings to become poor enough to qualify for Medicaid (which would cover the oxygen). And she wouldn’t have to rely on her family, putting a financial burden on those who may not be able to handle it.
A single-payer health care system would do away with insurance companies denying emergency room visits because the terrifying chest pain someone was experiencing happened to be reflux and not a heart attack. A single-payer health care system would do away with insurance companies altogether.
We can no longer tolerate an inhumane health care system that only provides security for the richest and healthiest individuals. In moments of illness and uncertainty, patients should be confident in their health insurance, not fearfully waiting for an aftershock to bring everything toppling down. We can afford to live in a country that covers everyone. We need to live in a country that covers oxygen. We need single-payer health care.
Surafel Tsega is a hospitalist and member, Right Care Alliance.
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