On May 12, as my house was burning, my son was taken to the ER. He didn’t want to go. I’ve got to go to the airport to pick up my mom, he kept saying. But the ambulance crew insisted. Jacob was beginning to sound hoarse and incoherent. He needed to be checked out for smoke inhalation injuries. Laure, the nanny next door, saw him lying on the ground, covering his eyes with his hands and shaking his head, repeating Oh my God, Oh my God. It’s heartbreaking for me to visualize this scene. I wasn’t there; I was in the air flying towards home, but I’m grateful that others were there for my son – my neighbors David and Marcia, the firefighters, and especially, the emergency medical crew. They took care of him and got him settled in the ambulance, and that’s when the medical costs began to accumulate.
My son is 20 and has not been enrolled in school since December due to his Depression issues. He hasn’t been able to find a job either, despite dozens of applications. He has no health care coverage on his own. His ambulance ride cost $1,100.95 and his helicopter lift to Brooke Army Medical Center’s burn unit in San Antonio cost $9,465.22. The 2 ½ days of hospitalization cost $22,068. That makes a total of $32,634.17 in case you were wondering. If not for the recent health insurance reforms, Jacob would be bankrupt before he even began his adult life. Luckily, due to the health insurance reforms, I have been able to keep him on my insurance and for that, I am deeply grateful. The costs so far, and who knows, there may still be a bill or two yet to come, add up to more than half my yearly income. Who can afford that? Not the vast majority of people in my circles. And yet, no one I know would reject medical treatment for their children. Why should anyone have to choose between medical care and bankruptcy?
Oddly enough, my son is not the first in the family to be airlifted for hospital care. When he was a mere babe of 15 months and we were visiting the German grandparents for the summer, I developed a severe case of bacterial pneumonia. I was also five months pregnant with daughter Sarah. I, too, was taken by ambulance to the local hospital, where I spent the night in the ER. The next morning, the doctor informed me that I was to be airlifted to the university hospital for specialized care. I didn’t want to go. All I could think of was how terribly expensive it would be and that the insurance I had as a graduate student in the U.S. was not particularly good. Nein, bitte, es kostet ein Vermögen. No, please, it’ll cost a fortune. The German doctor looked startled. That wasn’t the reaction she had expected. Health first, she insisted, and off I went. Now I’m not saying that the German health care system is perfect, but I had lived with it for six years when Germany was my home, and I have to say, it worked pretty well overall. Patients didn’t go broke paying, and doctors still made a pretty good living. I received care for my allergies and eczema, including a 3-week hospital stay, along with other minor ailments, and I never once asked not to be treated because I was worried about costs. I don’t know how to solve all our health care issues in America, but I do know that no one should have to worry about money first and health second.