I found today’s front-page article, Health bill promising for mom-and-pop employees, at the Kansas City Star to be an excellent example of the state of poor journalism and poor critical thinking skills in this country.
The story features workers at YJ’s, “the artsy downtown snack bar” who do not have health insurance, while showing how health care reform can help them out.
…the crew at YJ’s, and 32 million other Americans, would shift from uninsured to covered. This group of 10 people, in fact looks to come out well ahead under the proposal.
The requirement that employers offer health insurance would apply to bigger operations, those with more than 50 workers — not to YJ’s owner David Ford. Rather, the government would help underwrite his costs. Uninsured now, Ford said he might sign up a senior portion of his staff for health care if the overhaul passes.
It struck me as odd that even the older owner of this place is uninsured. Scott Cannon, the reporter who wrote this story, doesn’t explicitly explain why. Though later in the article he does explain that Ford trades artwork for medical care.
A nice addition to the story would have been to ask Ford why he doesn’t choose to purchase health insurance. If it’s because of the expense, Cannon could have done some basic research on eHealthInsurance.com or called a health insurance broker to see how much health insurance now would cost Ford and see if it could fit into this budget.
Later in the article, Cannon details the story of one of the workers, 32 year old Liam Morrisroe. A few years ago, an uninsured Morrisroe racked up $15,000 in medical bill (later bargained down to $10,000) for treating a kidney stone. Cannon reports that $10,000 of the original total was for “an emergency room doctor.”
It is not apparent in the story whether Cannon fact checked to confirm Morrisroe’s claims. I’ve been to the emergency room four times over the last 15 years. Those visits costs ranged from $800 – $2,000 each. Not cheap, but not $10,000. The $10,000 seems high to me. Cannon could have called the hospital where Morrisroe was treated and, with Morrisroe’s permission, been given the line item breakdown for his bill.
Morrisroe concludes, “If I had to do it over, I would have just toughed it out with the pain of the kidney stone.”
Does Morrisroe consider other options, like finding a doctor or alternative treatment center, like the CVS Pharmacy Minute Clinic? I have learned to call my doctor when something is wrong to get his advice on whether to go to the emergency room or to see him. My doctor charges less than $100 per visit.
Had Morrisroe made a call to a doctor or to a nurse help line, they may have been able to advise him on a less expensive course of treatment. This would have been a great service for the reader and Morrisroe had Cannon explored and compared these options.
But, after all that, I credit Cannon for including this paragraph. Morrisroe is skeptical of the current proposed reform bill:
He said he was worried that the plan in Congress was pushed through too quickly. Sure, the push for health care reform has been going on for decades. But he saw the pending changes as too substantial to be done atop a health care infrastructure in need of more careful reworking.
But, the reason I think Cannon included it was because of the last sentence, “He would have preferred that President Barack Obama stretch the process into a second presidential term to make sure things are done right.” An editorial, I’m guessing, Cannon agrees with.
As I read Morrisroe’s story and the paragraph above I wondered two things. First, I wondered if Morrisroe considered that he shouldn’t wait for the President to fix things for him and that he should take responsibility for that himself? Second, I wondered if he’s ever recognized that working a counter at a snack bar is something you do when you’re 18 to 24 years old and at some point you might need to think about that next thing.
Maybe Cannon thought the same thing, because he seems to answer my second question by next featuring 29 year-old Pete Liebert. Liebert “said he felt keenly that being uninsured left him financially vulnerable.”
What does he do for health care now?
“Nothing,” Leibert laughed.
He has not had insurance for at least 10 years, when his parents’ policy covered him. Leibert recalled getting care perhaps once since then, when he burned his hand at work. Ford covered the emergency room bill, and the best that Leibert could recall, he paid out of his own pocket for follow-up care.
The thought of getting a job that has insurance crosses his mind occasionally, but passes quickly. He likes his job and the family-like atmosphere of the YJ’s bunch.
“Here I’m happy. I get coffee. I get a meal on my shift. I like the people,” Leibert said. “I’d rather be happy than have some other things.”
Pete made his trade-off and seems happy about it, for now. He’d rather be happy than have some other things. We may not agree with his decision, but it’s his decision. He may not be happy when he needs medical treatment and has to pay for it, but that’s part of the trial-and-error in which we all live our lives. That experience would give him the signal that working at a snack bar is not a viable long-term gig. Though, that message didn’t seem to be received by his co-worker Morrisroe. But, we’ve all been there. I’ve certainly made costly mistakes and I’ve tried to learn from them. Those care called consequences. Consequences help us figure things out.
Ruby Hanson, a three year employee of YJ’s, does “mostly without health care.”
“I’d like to see a doctor. I’d like to get a better idea of how my body works and how I’m doing,” Hanson said. “I don’t even remember the last time I saw a dentist. I’d like to know my blood type.”
She said she hoped that her consumption of raw garlic and drinking the teas she made for herself would fortify her health. She is somewhat dubious of drugs anyway.
While she was encouraged by the possibility that reform could mean coverage for her, a government mandate that people purchase insurance rubbed as wrongly “telling people what they have to do.”
Yet her life would be made easier. An emergency room visit about six months ago left her with a $700 bill that she doesn’t know how to pay. It is nearly a month’s wages.
“The way things are now,” she said, “it’s hard.”
I agree with Ruby’s thinking in terms of “telling people what they have to do.” I do recommend that she spend about an hour calling around to doctor’s offices and getting prices on an office visit for a check-up. CVS Pharmacy offers a Minute Clinic at a reasonable price. Occasionally there are free health seminars that can do blood work so she can get an idea of her health status. There are inexpensive options out there to help her avoid relying on the emergency room for her medical treatment.
I found the story lacking because the only two medical care options explored for this group are the emergency room and government health care and doesn’t ask common sense questions. Have you considered any other treatment options? Have you called a doctor’s office to get a price for visit? Did you know about the CVS Minute Clinic? Have you looked into the price of catastrophic insurance? Have you considered that working at a snack bar, which sounds like a marginal business at best (since the story reveals the owner doesn’t make much), is not a viable long-term gig?