A farewell to healthcare

Lydia Jungkind

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One of the hardest lessons I’ve learned in the past 21 years was realizing what I had only after it was gone. In retrospect, the value of some treasures can only be understood in their absence. This feeling set in after I lost relationships, friends – and access to public health care. 

At the age of 15, I was diagnosed with anorexia. My teenage years consisted of countless doctors appointments and therapy sessions, but because I grew up in Germany, the biggest challenge was accepting help, not figuring out how to pay for it. 

In my home country, a doctor’s visit is a matter of health, not balance. Medical care is funded through taxes; children and students are exempt from fees. And that probably saved my life.

When my weight dropped to 87 pounds, my psychiatrist admitted me to a clinic that specialized in eating disorders and three years of starvation and depression came to an end. Along with the weight, I gained back control over my own life and most importantly, the ability to live it on my own terms, not on those dictated by anorexia. 

It is impossible to say how or whether I’d have been able to recover if I grew up in the United States, however, the nine weeks of inpatient treatment that finally sent me on the road to recovery would have been unattainable. Residential treatment alone costs around $30,000 – per month.  

What was a matter of course for me in Germany is a luxury in the United States. Despite the fact that eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, most insurance companies, including Medicare and Medicaid, do not cover treatment. As a result, anorexia ends fatally for 1 out of 10 people affected. 

While there might be several ways to break the vicious circle that is an eating disorder, it is virtually impossible to fully recover without professional help. 

My own experience led me to believe that public healthcare is a guarantor of freedom, not an infringement of it. The arguments against it stand on shaky grounds. Public health care does not equal poor health care. 

Internationally, the U.S. only ranks 27th for its levels of health care according to the World Health Organization. Compared with other wealthy countries, we have the highest rate of mortality amenable to healthcare. In other words, more Americans die from poor care quality than citizens of other nations involved in the study. 

Whenever I discuss public health care with an opponent, he or she claims that it would be too expensive. Isn’t that a lame excuse, considering the U.S. is the richest country in the world? 

Right now, it is too expensive for many Americans to get proper treatment and that means our health care system comes at a human cost. 

Some cynics even allege that the lack of insurance would be an incentive to take better care of ourselves. In the face of 30,000 people a year dying of curable, but life-threatening diseases like strokes, because they hesitate to go to the ER, that argument is simply invalid. The opioid epidemic is sad proof it is false, too. As a result, America has the lowest life expectancy out of all industrialized countries. 

So much for the sober facts. 

In real life, the current system is the reason I lost track of how many times I heard the words ‘I can’t afford to get sick’ from one of my friends. Many of them ignore the symptoms whenever they feel ill, hoping they will fade. 

In the self-proclaimed land of the free, we are not free to see a doctor, but bound by economic pressure. I did not decide to be an anorexic and none of us have full control over our health. I concede that there are precautions we can take, but there’s no guarantee. 

Seeking medical assistance isn’t a consumer choice, like whether to shop at Michael Kors or Target. It can be a choice between life and death. And therefore, the free market system shouldn’t dictate who gets to have health care and who doesn’t. 

As an international student, I’m required to sign up for a health plan. I currently pay $1500 per year for an insurance I haven’t used once. That does not mean I never felt the need to. I’m simply scared to find out the definition of a “reasonable expense,” of which I’d still have to pay 30% out of pocket. 

Instead, whenever I fly out to Germany, my visit equals a marathon of doctor’s appointments.

Even though I developed a similar anxiety as many Americans do, in terms of getting sick, I appreciate the safety net in the form of limited access to public health care. 

Some of you might think that if I miss the security I had in Germany so much, I could always return. But I don’t want to give up the home I found in the United States in exchange for peace of mind. 

And I don’t want to give up the hope that medicare-for-all might be right around the corner, combining the best of both worlds.