It's no secret that the healthcare system in the US is in need of some desperate reform. It's also no secret that it's a multi-billion dollar industry so it makes sense that there are tons of lobbies and special interest groups that spend a lot of money to keep it going as-is. As a result, there are tons of media stories that help to foment debates between US citizens arguing either for or against radical reform of a fundamentally broken system.
But that doesn't help this mom who shared a story.
Michelle DuBarry posted a painfully personal experience she had with the US healthcare system that sadly ends with the tragic death of her 1-year-old who, along with his father, was struck by a careless driver. The boy was immediately taken to the hospital and, despite doctors' best efforts through two surgeries and one night in the ICU, he didn't make it.
Michelle's heartache and frustration didn't end there.
While still grieving and dealing with the numbing and unnatural pain of having to outlive your child after a sudden tragedy, she was left with the daunting task of wondering just how in the world she was going to pay for attempting to save her son's life.
It's a story of a horrifying experience made exponentially worse because she was forced to navigate the discombobulated and often heartless world of the US healthcare system.
In 2010, I had good union health insurance. Obamacare was the law of the land. In November that yr my 1yo son was struck by a careless driver in a crosswalk. After two surgeries and a night in intensive care, he died.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Before we knew the outcome, I sat at his bedside, his tiny stitched-together body hooked to a million incessantly beeping machines, straining to recall what our deductibles were. I worried I wouldn't be able to keep working during what could be a long hospital stay.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
She wasn't going to be able to take extended time off of work to properly mourn the death of her baby and care for her husband, who also suffered in the accident, because she was a new hire at her job and wasn't working there for 12 months yet. She couldn't up and leave her job either because if she did, her health insurance would go out the window.
Not even seven days had passed before the hospital served her and her husband's home with a lien.
I googled FMLA and learned I wouldn't qualify b/c I hadn't been at my job for a year. If I lost my job we would both be without insurance. Without my income, there was no way we could afford $1K/month COBRA.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Within a week of his death, before we had even received a bill, the hospital put a lien on our house to make sure we wouldn't skip out on the PICU bill.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
They wanted to make sure she wouldn't "skimp" on paying the hospital bill, basically saying, "Sorry your kid's dead, but if you can't pay us for trying to save his life, we're gonna make sure you're childless and homeless too." It gets worse: her husband couldn't receive treatment from his primary care doctor because their "good" health insurance didn't cover it, nor would the doctor accept payment from the auto insurance company. Wonderful.
My husband who was also injured in the crash, was refused treatment by his primary care doc b/c she didn't accept payment from auto insurance and his health insurer wouldn't pay til we exhausted our auto insurance.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Have you ever had to call around to find a doctor that can handle your specific insurance situation? Have you done it in the days after your toddler has died, when you haven't even figured out a way to talk about it, when your husband is injured and urgently needs a Rx refill?— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
But there was a small ray of light, they were only required to fork over $5,000 after the death of their child, and still had the cash from the insurance company on behalf of the driver who ran their kid over and killed them. Once their health insurance company discovered the couple got $175,000 from the driver's insurance company, they had their legal department on the case to take all of that grievance money, because, you know, healthcare ain't cheap.
Leaving the two with nothing.
We ended up with around $5K in out-of-pocket expenses and our health insurer paid $175K. Eventually, we'd receive a settlement from the at-fault driver. For a minute, we thought we might be OK financially.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Then our health ins. co. came after our pain and suffering settlement. They demanded reimbursement for the $175K they were out. Turns out they were legally entitled to do that. In an instant, our modest settlement - meant to compensate for the loss of our son - was reduced to $0— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Michelle worked tirelessly for 8 years to make sure taking pain and suffering payments from families illegal in Oregon, but in other states, they can still do that. Since she couldn't go on FMLA, she had to go back to work, while both she and her husband did their best to cover their mortgage and pay their bills and go about "business and usual" even though their 1-year-old son was just killed.
(Side Note: It took me 8 yrs but in 2019 I initiated and passed a bill making this practice illegal in OR. It remains legal in many states.)— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Through all this, my husband and I both were suffering from PTSD. We had jobs, a mortgage. All of it hung in the balance. In a humane system, we could grieve without having to navigate an insurance juggernaut, without worrying about being thrust into debt and poverty.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Obamacare and company health insurance did nothing for their 27-hour visit in the hospital. There was no help from their jobs. No help from the hospital and certainly no help from the insurance companies. Instead of being able to deal with a personal tragedy, they were left fighting to make sure they weren't homeless and financially ruined all because someone carelessly ran their son over with a car, not to mention Dad, who was also left with multiple injuries.
Despite Obamacare and "good" union insurance, we were nearly bankrupted by a 27-hour hospital stay.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Every one of us lives in a body that is going to fail. Sometimes it happens suddenly, catastrophically. Do you want to fight with insurers when this happens? Do you want to sort through a mountain of bills when you lose someone you love, when your grief is raw?— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Michelle ended her story by advocating for a single buyer, universal healthcare system. While I'm no expert in the field, there are several experts who've lauded Bernie Sanders' plan, and while pricey, it's theoretically proven as more than a viable and practical solution.
A common argument against universal healthcare is, "but how do you make sure people don't go to the hospital for every little thing?"
There is no compromise on healthcare that doesn't leave millions of people unacceptably vulnerable to corporations trying to profit from sick and injured people.— Michelle DuBarry (@DuBarryPie) February 23, 2020
Again, I'm not expert, but I can't imagine it'd be too difficult for a doctor or insurance company to see the difference between getting a G.I. Joe stuck up your butt during foreplay, or scraping your knee, with your 1-year-old child being run over by a reckless driver.
But maybe that's too impractical to ask for. I don't know.