Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Affordable Healthcare

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I’ve got the pursuit of happiness down pretty good. But I must admit, I could be a lot freer if I weren’t shackled under the weight of massive medical bills.

Yesterday, my husband and I received six identical pieces of mail that proclaimed the same harrowing message: “Your insurance claim will not be covered because you did not meet the six-month waiting period.” For the past few months we’d been receiving messages foreshadowing impending doom: “We are investigating your case as we believe your condition may have been pre-existing, and therefore not a covered expense.”

I suppose appendicitis could be considered a “pre-existing condition” if the only condition would be to have an existing appendix.

Healthcare for the Seoul

We lived in Seoul, South Korea for one year, and for all the difficulties that abounded, we were able to rely on two things: spicy food and affordable healthcare. For a paltry sum, akin to about $3, I could visit the doctor for a mere head cold. For an additional $1, my doctor could order an MRI scan or any additional test. Prescription medicine ran between $2 and $10.

In some ways I felt freer in Korea. I was free from fear that I wouldn’t be able to pay for emergencies. I was freed from deciding whether or not my cold was serious enough to see a doctor, because I could easily afford a visit. I was freed from worrying about whether we could afford the insulin that keeps my husband alive; in Korea it ran about $20 per box – ten times cheaper than it is in the U.S.

One month before we left Seoul, I was researching health insurance plans like mad; I didn’t want any lapse in health care coverage as we moved back to the U.S. and searched for new employment.

We found a health care plan that was praised for its excellent coverage of people with pre-existing conditions, particularly Type-1 Diabetes. My husband would be able to get insulin, and I would be able to sleep at night.

The pursuit of an appendectomy

Five days after we arrived in Chicago to visit family, my husband was struck with extreme pain. We joked that it was just his stomach getting reacclimated to greasy American food, but stopped joking when the pain became so intense that we had to go to hospital. There, we discovered that his appendix was inflamed, and he needed surgery. Immediately. I was naturally worried, but able to get a few hours’ sleep on that hospital sofa, knowing that at least we had health insurance.

Freshly healed and full of optimism, my husband and I pursued happiness and new jobs. The U.S. economy may still be suffering, but at least we had our health. He was hired on to do contract work for a non-profit organisation. I was hired on as a writer for a web design firm. Happiness abounded. We could finally stop scraping together $400 every month to pay for healthcare; new jobs meant provided health insurance.

Except, that the non-profit organisation decided not to hire him on after the contract period. We later learned that this particular organisation is well-known in the area for letting people go so that they don’t have to pay for health insurance after the three-month period. As for me, my job is wonderful, but we won’t receive health care for another month — there’s a 60-day waiting period before my company may provide health insurance.

Life or liberty, not both

I have never felt more stuck.

I’m held back by financial servitude. Stuck paying $400 a month to a health insurance company who won’t pay for a life-saving operation. As we continue to debate the insurance company over semantics, $28,000 looms over us. Apparently, you can put a price on human life.

The socialized healthcare issue in the United States has morphed into a vitriolic partisan debate, with no clear solution in sight.

I am supposed to be guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But it seems like I’m given a choice: I can have life, or I can have liberty. If I choose life, I’ll forever be in debt, sacrificing that liberty.

I guess I’m free to be in debt forever, or free to die.

As I continue to pursue happiness in some small way, I have to wonder if maybe it’s time to revisit some of these “inalienable rights.”

Should affordable health care be a human right?

Image Source: Urbanbohemian

Lindsay McComb is a writer, editor and designer. She lives in Oakland, works in San Francisco and drinks a lot of coffee. Her work can be found at