I’m OK, You’re OK. Or are you?

One New Year’s Eve when we were living in Canada, Phil and I were out with friends. When my phone rang, I assumed it was our daughter Yael with New Year wishes. Instead, it was our daughter seeking advice. Her boyfriend and she were cooking a festive dinner, and when a dish exploded from heat, he had slashed his big toe on a shard. It was bleeding profusely, you could see the bone, what should they do? We insisted that a visit to the ER was called for. He was resisting, because, an aspiring musician, he had no medical insurance. Our Canadian friends sat there dumbfounded. To them it was inconceivable that someone needing medical care could be calculating whether to seek it, based on the lack of insurance. Because all Canadians have medical insurance, paid for through taxes.

In the end he went. The toe required numerous stitches. And he got a bill for $2000. Good luck with that.

I won’t even mention the bill Jon got a few years later for $30,000 for a five day stay when he awoke paralyzed and the cause could not be found. Because he was still a striving musician on a low income, he qualified eventually for Medicaid, and was relieved of that one.

Most notable for us that first night was the reaction of our Canadian friends. They literally could not comprehend the discussion over whether to go to the ER for a serious injury. In their lives they had never had to worry about whether medical care would be available or how much it would cost or who would pay for it. Like the air or the sun, it was always there for the taking, with no discussion needed. It was a right, not a privilege.

We had our own brush with medical disaster with Yael. After her first year of college, she decided she wanted to change schools and go part time, working part time as well. Of course by then, being 19, she was no longer covered by our health insurance and couldn’t afford her own on her minimum wage salary. I think I held my breath for that entire year.

She returned to college full time the next year and was again covered by insurance. That year she had an emergency appendectomy, and the following one an allergic reaction to an antibiotic that landed her in the hospital for five days. I refuse to think what would have happened to all of us if either of these had hit her during her Year Without Medical Insurance.

If you have insurance in this country, you are at least partially safe, so long as the insurance company agrees to pay the bills. Of course if you have a pre-existing condition, you could be turned down. If your employer wasn’t picking up part of the tab, the monthly cost for the premium could be crippling. And if you are a woman, you are charged more.

Obamacare will not be a panacea. There will be plenty of bumps, and it is not a single payer system such as Canada, Australia and England have. But it will smooth out some of those inequities. And if we had it 13 years ago, Yael would have been covered, and I would have been breathing in deep relief that whole year long.