Michael Kaufman, Southern Tier

My name is Michael Kaufman and I am 63 years old. I live in Delaware County. I went without health insurance for 8 years, and couldn’t pay my ER bills and dental bills. Working as a printer and graphic artist for newspapers paid poorly and offered no health insurance. My landlord took a long time to fix a broken sewer pipe which triggered severe asthma causing me to blackout on the way to the emergency room. I didn't even find out that the allegedly unpaid bill was on my credit report until I applied for a mortgage for my place in rural New York about 20 years later, when I had to hurriedly settle up. During that time period I also suffered with impacted wisdom teeth, which caused pain and moved some of my other teeth out of alignment. It took years until a temporary charity dental clinic was set up and painfully removed all of them.

Now, I am disabled and have Medicare, but I still have to go without some dental care because dental coverage is not part of Medicare. I recently had an infected tooth that had been split ½ a year earlier. My dentist, who is only part-time in this rural area, couldn't see the crack and I didn't persist with her because I knew my wife's partial dental "insurance" wouldn't cover a second visit, so I learned to chew only on the other side of my mouth. But when it got infected and I became feverish and I couldn't reach the dentist at all, I finally went to the ER for antibiotics and then had it capped by another dentist for cash. So I ended up paying the Medicare deductible, the Medicare coinsurance deductible, and the $200 emergency room copayment. Then I had to pay $2000 for a root canal and cap, all because Medicare coverage stops at your neck and they have slowly worked in more and more charges.

 

Medicare also charges hefty copays. Several years ago I accidently drilled through one of my fingers. I quickly went to the closest Emergency Room where the wound was treated and bandaged. Unfortunately, the next morning, I noticed red streaks traveling up my arm -- a sign of possible blood poisoning -- so I returned to the local ER where medical staff immediately inserted an IV of antibiotics and suggested that I go to a bigger hospital 50 miles away to see a hand specialist, which I did. Shortly thereafter, the bills started to arrive, and I found myself saddled with $600 in charges: a $200 co-pay for each of the three ER visits.  

 

I've been on Disability since 2012 and right now I probably spend an hour or two a week dealing with charges, bills. There's a lot of turnover in medical offices, and records disappear. It's gotten harder and harder to deal with the stress of it. So much depends on having a good memory and keeping good records, but memory diminishes with age.

 

I have seen the stark difference between our system in the U.S. and the single-payer systems in other country. My mother was kicked out of her nursing home a year before her death because she was on Medicaid and they wanted to fill her bed with a private client who would pay more. In the end, after she died I received a bill for $450,000- seventeen times my annual salary at the time. The "healthcare" companies tried to convince me that I was liable. Fortunately, I hadn't been my mom's legal guardian. After a year or so of threatening phone calls, the companies gave up.  

 

By contrast, around the same time my father was in England when he had an accident. My dad's injuries were grave, and they put him on life support in the intensive care ward. I was by his side when he died. The British pay a little over a third what we pay for healthcare—and they cover everyone, and have better health outcomes. The National Health Service had put my brother and me up for free for a week, spent time operating on my dad, cared for him and us, transported him twice by ambulance, and used the skilled time of many health workers. But when we asked what we owed for all this, the hospital staff looked at us like we were crazy. It was free. That's what the Health Service was there for—to provide care.  "It's a human right," the staffperson told me matter of factly.

Someday, I hope healthcare will be a right in America too. I hope that someday, no matter who you are or where you come from, whether you're employed or unemployed, or whether you have a "pre-existing condition" or not—you can get the care you need.