Health care begins in the pocketbook

Opinions about funding for government programs change when it touches one’s personal pocketbook.

The man, who in his 30’s and 40’s adamantly vowed he would never dip into the federal bank to fund his health or his aging years, changed his mind as his age increased and his income decreased. Without a whisper of protest, he filled out the forms and accepted the services and retirement check his tax dollars had funded for others over the years.
The one who demeaned all the lazy bums on disability ate his words without even choking as he pursued all available avenues for disability resources when a horrible accident severely disabled a loved one. Former programs labeled as those feeding freeloaders became necessary assets to ease the transition into the new norm.

Ineptness in handling money and illness presides on both sides of the health care table.
A friend’s family confidently took her to the best psychiatric unit after an extremely stressful year. Because she had a premium insurance plan, they expected the best of care only to be abruptly told – after a couple weeks – that her insurance had capped out. If she required further treatment, they advised her to go to the state hospital. She went home and made twice a day appointments with her local clinician for the next couple weeks.
I visited a family member on Medicaid getting an IV drip at the hospital – treatment that a private pay insurance plan would have allowed, even mandated, to be done at home with a prescription and a shot of anti-biotics.

I’ve watched another person insist on emergency room treatment for a problem that could have been treated for a fraction of the cost – if they had simply waited a couple hours until the store opened that carried the simple treatment required.
I’ve seen drug companies provide expensive medication at no cost to an un-insured, un-employed relative. I observed others receive services that anyone without a government card or premium insurance coverage would consider a luxury.

To my astonishment, the price of glasses doubled after I pulled out my insurance card. That increase not only cost the insurance company more, but me as well.
Most of the time most families do not need medical insurance. For the cost of the insurance or the tax dollars involved the majority could save up the cash and pay for whatever doctor visits come along. That works – until whatever comes along is a catastrophic illness, accident or chronic condition. Then the minimal dollars spent each year on medical bills can multiply beyond imagination.

– As a young couple with few resources in the 1960’s, my parents had not insurance. An accident the first day of summer vacation required repeated surgeries, physical therapy and medical visits that lasted well into the fall. Fortunately, their physician released them from years of financial obligation for his bill.
– A week or two after a relative’s job ended, he nearly cut off his finger. Alghough COBRA insurance coverage took a big bite out of his ready cash at the time, the surgery without it would have multiplied that financial bite.
– Insurance came in mighty handy when a couple other relatives with broken bones required surgery and follow-up care.
We did not even know that a loved one had a small medical plan until he landed in the hospital for a couple weeks. That plan covered what the family insurance did not – and no one complained about the unexpected largesse.

When it is needed medical insurance is worth every penny we pay into the system. When it isn’t used month after month, year after year, we begrudge the drain on our pocketbooks.
When my husband had to sign up for a supplemental insurance under Medicare for prescription coverage, he carefully weighed his options, selected an insurer – and promptly realized an increase in his personal medical costs.
His joining the system provided more funds for others with more expensive, pocket-book depleting medications. Between his insignificant monetary need and another’s catastrophic situation we philosophically hope a balance is found – while we notice our pocket book contents dwindling.

Surely something needs to be done about the health care system in the country. But after watching what happens when the real circumstances touch personal and corporate greediness and an individual’s quest for immediate personal comfort, I don’t think that throwing a few trillion dollars on the already burning pile of medical dollars will fix that aspect of the medical health equation.

We need to find another approach. We need to scrutinize the monetary flow and weigh it against the necessity for services – whether the cash comes from a private or public pocketbook. No one wants to wait for medical services or be denied medical services, but circumstance behoove us to ask “is this really necessary? Who benefits the most? Whose pocketbook is this really coming from?
Ultimately the answer will be found in your own pocketbook.
(Penny pincher, Joan Hershberger, is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at