It’s easy to get frustrated with our health care system. In Colorado, we have three quarters of a million people without health insurance. Across the country, that number reaches 47 million. We hear stories of people running our of health insurance benefits and having to choose between their mortgage and their medications. But then you read about someone like “Adobe” who has been at the University Medical Center in AZ since April, after being involved in a horrific car accident. He suffered such severe brain trauma that he doesn’t know who he is. The best guess is that he’s an illegal immigrant, and the hospital is obviously not getting paid to take care of him. And yet they continue to do so. They aren’t required to take care of foreign citizens who aren’t able to pay for their care, but they spend about $5 million a year doing just that. (I assume they also do the same for American citizens who are without health insurance and unable to pay for emergency care).
It’s easy to blame the financial problems in our health care system on cases like this, where hospitals are providing care without pay. But that’s because we’ve monetized a system that is inherently entangled with basic values and moral obligations. Shouldn’t a human life be worth more than any dollar amount, or one’s ability to pay for care? If someone you love were to suffer a serious brain injury and end up in a hospital, with no idea who he is or where he’s from, wouldn’t you want the hospital to focus on care rather than payment?
Obviously a hospital can’t offer many services for free. And financial decisions do play a major role in medical situations. But it’s nice to read a story now and again where money isn’t the trump card.