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Tomgram: Beverly Gologorsky, Health Care That Makes Us Ill

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Recently, at a rally in Wisconsin, President Trump implicitly attacked the late Senator John McCain over Obamacare: "We should've had health care, but one man decided to vote against it." He was referring to the Republican Senate's 2017 attempt at a "skinny repeal" of the Affordable Care Act. The president has repeated this charge endless times -- at least 30 by last November, according to the Washington Post -- always claiming that the Republicans were within one vote of passing it before McCain took it all away. In reality, he was one of three Republican senators who voted against the repeal, which, had it passed, would have faced difficult, if not insurmountable, opposition in the then-Republican House.

As with so much else that the president says, however, no matter. At present, there's only one aspect of his claim that's worth our attention: what would have happened if, as he so fervently wished, that repeal had indeed become law. According to the Congressional Budget Office, it would have increased "the number of uninsured people by 16 million over baseline estimates by 2026... and would [have] increase[d] premiums in the [Obamacare] exchanges by 20%." In other words, to this day, the president continues to dream about a Republican victory over health care that would have created a future from hell.

To get a sense of what such a future might have meant for so many Americans, join novelist Beverly Gologorsky, author of Every Body Has a Story, in an ambulance in New York City and consider what health care means, even today, for staggering numbers of Americans in an embattled present that President Trump and so many Senate Republicans wanted to leave in a ditch. Now, imagine a siren screaming into the New York sky and join the ongoing health-care crisis of our time, up close and personal. Tom

To Be Sick and Not Rich
The Nightmare of Medical Care in America
By Beverly Gologorsky

On this extremely hot summer day, the ear-splitting siren screaming through New York's streets is coming from the ambulance I'm in -- on a gurney on my way to the ER. That only makes the siren, loud as it is, all the more alarming.

I fell. The pain, its location and intensity, suggests I've probably broken my hip.

The kind face of the emergency medical technician hovering above me asks questions softly and I confess that I'm in terrible pain. Other gentle hands are busy taking blood pressure and doing oxygen counts. These EMT workers, employees of the Fire Department, are good at what they do.

At the ER entrance, the gurney's lifted out of the vehicle, wheels are dropped, and it's rolled inside. Under a ceiling of bright white lights, it passes -- and so I pass -- one cubicle after another. I catch bits of voices, speaking in several languages.

My friend, who's come with me to the ER, roots around in my purse for my insurance and then heads for the admissions office. Alone, I close my eyes to shut out the glare of the ceiling lights. I want one thing: relief from the pain. Oblivion would even be more appreciated.

My friend returns to my cubicle and asks, "Is this the only insurance you have?" I panic. Will they not accept me? But they have to! It's the ER! That's the reassurance I offer myself and then I tell her, "Yes, it's all I have."

She looks doubtful.

"What?" I ask desperately. "What?"

"Don't you have some kind of supplemental?" And she begins to try to explain, but I can't deal with this right now. All I want is relief from the pain. Any other moment, I'd worry about the money, but not now. I can't! Instead, simply to remain half-calm, I remind myself that I have insurance, that I have a Health Maintenance Organization, or HMO, a plan that offers a wide range of healthcare services through a network of providers who agree to work with members.

After vital signs are taken, I'm moved to a hospital room and given pain meds that don't offer oblivion, but do help. There, I learn what the X-rays show: a hip fracture. Surgery necessary. Operating rooms all taken. It may be two days before they can operate, the orthopedic surgeon tells me. My friend whispers that every extra day in the hospital will cost a mint. She then appeals to the staff to expedite the surgery. They can't.

At that moment, I don't care if the hospital costs a million dollars a day, I just want to get better. However, I, too, want the surgery to happen, within the hour if possible, since my leg is now frozen in a distinctly awkward position, thanks to the way I fell, and I realize that it won't be straight until the operation's over.

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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