I want you to imagine a friend of mine, let us call them Alex (they/them). Let me tell you a story about my hypothetical friend Alex that happened in 2019.
Alex is a part of the do-it-yourself (DIY) community in New Brunswick. Alex is the type of person someone might call a punk, but Alex wears that like a badge of pride. Alex likes to go thrift shopping, and they bring corduroy overalls back in style. Alex is there when you are hurting. Alex listens to you with their whole heart.
Alex participates in the New Brunswick basement show scene and likes to go listen to local bands. These bands play in unfinished basements where there are often exposed pipes, asbestos, dark lighting and other questionable conditions.
It is cool though because everyone wants to be your friend, and they all play really good music. Well, some of it you are not really sure if it is music, but it sounds really awesome anyway. And you buy something off of their Bandcamp. DIY basement shows are a place to let yourself go and get lost in the music.
One night, Alex gets really lost in the music and moshes hard with the crowd. Bam! They hit their head on an exposed pipe. Let us imagine two days later, Alex happens to visit your residence hall. Alex used to live there, but the room and board fee was too expensive on top of the already big tuition. They rent in New Brunswick now.
Alex tells you about hitting their head. They say they still feel dizzy and the last two days have been foggy since that night. You tell Alex they might have a concussion and need to get in contact with a medical professional immediately.
Alex says something that breaks your heart. They say they cannot go to the doctor. Alex tells you, "I cannot afford to have something wrong with me." Alex does not have health insurance. Even if they did, the co-pay would still be too high.
The local fast-food chain they work at does not pay enough to treat concussions. Neither does the second job Alex works at. To make matters worse, if they did have a concussion, they would not be legally allowed to work and would have to take time off of their already low-paying jobs.
Alex works 60 hours a week, but they are part-time. That is because they work 30 hours at one job and 30 hours at the other. If Alex takes medical leave, there might not be a position when they come back.
A concussion might be a problem for Alex in the future, but right now they will be in big trouble if they cannot afford rent. Alex just toughs it out. This is just how things are at Rutgers University.
This is not an uncommon story.
In fact, this is the story of the U.S. healthcare system. I mean, what kind of “system” is a loosely connected jumble of bureaucratic insurance companies vying to rip every cent out of your cold dying hands?
Insurance companies' goal is not to help people when they get sick. Insurance companies are there to make money. That and spend that money to lobby Congress to prevent any kind of logical healthcare system from getting root in this country.
It is hard to tell if I should be angry. Who could blame insurance companies? Just another private industry in the Land of the Free. That is the American dream right there. It is ghoulish. It is vampiric. It is cruel. But that is the name of the game in the U.S. It is not a flaw in the system, it is designed that way.
When policy is centered around the intangible “free market” and not real people, someone risks a concussion because the choice is either treatment or not having a roof over their head.
In this country, you can get great healthcare, at a price. The American private healthcare “system” has convinced us to believe that we all live in a theme park, and you can buy a medical fast pass to cut the line if you are rich.
The best healthcare should not go to those who can afford it most. Quality healthcare should go into the hands of those who need it most. People like Alex should not be crushed under our society because they cannot afford to have good healthcare.
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) amplifies these kinds of problems. If a person works a close-contact job, a positive diagnosis bars them from work and their livelihood. They might not want to go to work sick, potentially infecting countless people, but they might also have a family to feed or rent to pay.
We need a government-funded healthcare system. A real one. One that protects workers’ rights and guarantees they will be taken care of. One that puts people over profit. When it comes to healthcare, it looks like the U.S. is the one who hit its head on a pipe.
Anthony Ballaro is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in classics and public health. His column, "'Round About Town," runs on alternate Thursdays.
*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.
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