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Staying Alive? $11,000. Death? Priceless.

By Dr. Lucas Restrepo
. 3 Comment(s)

By Hyun Mun, a patient. 

I was at the store looking for a magazine at the rack, feeling breathless and dizzy. Maybe there was a power outage, I thought, because the lights were going off. 

When I woke from what felt like a deep sleep, I heard a voice speak in an authoritative tone: "You've just had a seizure. We're going to get you to a hospital." 

I couldn't be certain if I was dreaming a strange delusion inspired by a television episode of ER. 

 "Can you tell me what today's date is?" he asked. I diligently ravaged my brain but I drew a blank. Ashamed, I frowned and I pathetically shook my head.

"That's ok," said the paramedic. More people hovered around me with tubes. 

I then realized my head was on the floor and these people were looking down at me. I tried to remember the circumstances preceding to my laying on the floor.

He injected my right arm with painful ivies to take my vital signs.

"You can hold my hand," said a concerned female bystander.

He then confirmed that they were going to take me to UCLA hospital. "Oh no," I thought, "not the Neiman Marcus of hospitals!"   

I was quickly transported to the garage. I heard the sirens. A group of emergency room doctors in white coats and nurses in navy blue scrubs hovered over me.

Business first. The Admissions counselor remained stoic in her countenance and handed me a pink Faustian form consenting to medical care, which is the same as consenting to medical debt.

"I can’t afford it," I shook my head. "You might as well," she said, "you're already here."

I currently owe the City of Culver City $1,860 for ambulance services and $11,000 to the UCLA Ronald Reagan hospital. 

Advertised as a public health insurance program which provides needed health care services for low-income individuals, Medi-Cal is what a social worker will advise if you are low-income and need medical care. Unfortunately, even though I am low-income, I do not quality because the eligibility requirements are so restrictive; as an individual who is not on welfare, I must be pregnant, younger than 21 or older than 65 to qualify.

I am in the process of submitting my charity application, my only resort. I am unable to pay my medical bills. I currently work as a temp, making $13 an hour, which yields a gross income too high for welfare. I have been described as a hard worker. In addition to my day job, I have tried to make ends meet by working in various second jobs as a teaching assistant and as a tutor.

While attending college, my father was hospitalized. He also faced collection notices and bills with dizzying rows of zeroes and commas, huge sums of money that we did not have.

I am lucky. Although I know the price tag of staying alive, the quality (yet extravagantly) comprehensive treatment at UCLA Ronald Reagan hospital ruled out any terminal illness as a cause for the seizure.

But I still struggle to work, to save money, and I watch my father die. 

Medi-Cal, the supposed state program for the low-income, restricts eligibility to such a tiny portion of the population with insanely arbitrary age restrictions. Why about men who are sixty-four years old like my father? He has a catheter attached to his leg because of his bladder problems. I was hoping to save my money so that he could see a urologist but I now face my own bills. Will he live long enough for Medicare? 

When I was five, my father and I immigrated to America, the land of opportunity. His withering health makes a mockery of the treasured value we held as newly immigrated Americans.

I know that I am not the only American daughter watching her father die and sink into debt that I will never be able to pay off.

In desperation, I have even considered sending my father as a medical tourist to Korea where universal healthcare is offered. Unfortunately, he is in no condition to get on a plane.

We both work hard and we both pay taxes as legal residents who pay our fair share. The State of California has programs for minors, children, and pregnant women. But what about the non-pregnant? 

As a graduate of UCLA, I am even more frustrated and ashamed that I couldn't wade through the system to get healthcare for my father. His social security disability application was rejected even though his income was cut more than half since his hospitalization.

My father and I have both realized the cost of staying alive, which is far higher than dying. Are lives devalued so much to the point that a cost-benefit analysis would point to death as the more affordable option?

Share Your Comments

 

  1. Peggy Maze Johnson

    Permalink
    My husband is a Plumber Pipefitters and has been diagnosed with "end stage liver disease". His Doctors have said he needs a liver disease. He was referred to UCLA and just today we have been told that his insurance with a $750,000 lifetime coverage that is going to $1.5 million in January, is not enough and he is being denied!
    I was told that liver transplants cost $1.3 million, which I have been told us patently untrue, and they must be factoring in the chance of complications!
    So, tell me what you think?
  2. Peggy Maze Johnson

    Permalink
    My husband is a Plumber Pipefitters and has been diagnosed with "end stage liver disease". His Doctors have said he needs a liver disease. He was referred to UCLA and just today we have been told that his insurance with a $750,000 lifetime coverage that is going to $1.5 million in January, is not enough and he is being denied!
    I was told that liver transplants cost $1.3 million, which I have been told us patently untrue, and they must be factoring in the chance of complications!
    So, tell me what you think?
  3. Alice Chen

    Permalink
    The Affordable Care Act will open up Medicaid to more low-income people like this patient. People who make about $26,000 for a family of four will qualify - without the extra restrictions listed above. That's why we have to keep the Affordable Care Act going!

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