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Trying to Catch His Breath With a Hole-Ridden Safety Net

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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I’m sitting here on a bed that constantly readjusts itself. It’s terribly annoying and when I lay down on it there is a low rumbling of the motor that pushes air to my legs and sucks it from butt. The noise makes that grey matter between the ears in my head shake. Probably a malfunctioning bed, but it’s nothing to complain about given what is sitting next to me, 2 meters over, in the next adjustable bed.

I’m at Carteret General Hospital on North Carolina’s scenic Crystal Coast, where I live. My beautiful, precious 6 year old son was admitted this past Tuesday for Pneumonia. It started 6 days before on a Wednesday. He asked his kindergarten teacher if he could lay down. Odd behavior for such an outgoing kid, one of the class favorites who even at 6 already seems quite the ladies man with 2 Lilies, a Tanzania, and an Ellie running up to him each day when I drop him off for school. Along with 2 Charleses, these friends are just the ones we hear about! When I picked up him from school he was clearly exhausted and went to bed early without his dinner.

On Thursday we kept him home as he was obviously feverish and had flu like symptoms. He was getting worse, but then he tricked me on Sunday. He was looking a little better and was more responsive. We played for while, building bugs and monsters from blocks and putty, and chatting about how we should be getting the second season DVDs of Star Wars: The Clone Wars in the mail the next day. But that Monday [EDITED: Thanks to my wife for the clarification] night was horrible and he started vomiting every time we tried to give him medicine or liquids. He wasn’t eating and his fever was getting pretty high, up to 103. I drugged him the best I could with kid’s OTC meds and on Monday my wife and I attended to his needs however we could.

We should have taken him to the Urgent Care right then and there. But we didn’t.


My poor decision-making capabilities in this regard was influenced by my lack of experience with any major disease (I have an immune system of steel, fortified by coffee and whisky), and our lack of insurance. My family includes four of the 49.1 million uninsured people in the United States. I’ve comforted myself that we couldn’t afford private insurance, which we can’t, but at least we were all relatively healthy and never seemed to have problems.

That was until my eldest started kindergarten this Fall. Now he is frequently at home for a few days with colds or mild flus. Still it’s nothing that popsicles, Dimetapp and a bunch of TLC can’t take care of. I work from home as a consultant and writer, so it didn’t bother me too much if and when I get infected, plus I am there to help my family when they fall ill.

But recently my mindset has become affected by our position. I tell my kids not to do things that I certainly enjoyed doing as a kid, like don’t climb high on trees, run a little slower on the trail, watch out for roots and stones! It’s not just the usual parental concern either. I’m consciously thinking “oh my god, I cannot afford to fix them if they get broke!”.

This is the luxury gap between the between the 20% of nonelderly americans who are uninsured and the rest. The luxury is, of course, being able to just walk into a doctor’s office and see them at the appropriate times. It is easy to discount this minority since most are at or near the poverty line. But many of the uninsured are like myself and just can’t seem to make the numbers work for a family of four each month by adding on private individual (i.e. non-group discounted) health insurance. Especially when you factor in the myriad other insurances we already pay: renter’s or home, wind and hail, flood, car, life, etc. It’s not that we are irresponsible, but the numbers. just. don’t. work.

When I started my family 6 years ago, I was on a path to a career in research and teaching. We had amazing health insurance through my institution and my wife and children-to-be were generously covered, no-questions-asked by the state of Pennsylvania during, and a year after, the pregnancies. We never saw a bill. After I got “real jobs” upon completing my Masters degree, I entered a grey zone of contract teaching and research employment at universities. With a decent, regular salary we were ineligible for state aid, yet didn’t make enough to afford extra costs. Furthermore, the quality of the insurance kept lowering until I wasn’t even sure what I was paying for – even as the premium costs were rising.

It reached rock bottom last Spring when we attempted to actually use our insurance  that I bought for $1400 every six months while a contract lecturer and beginning PhD student at a North Carolinian university. My boy was starting Kindergarten and needed to be current on his vaccines. Of course, both kids needed to be current, so we took them in one-by-one, got their shots and check-ups, handed over the insurance information, paid our co-pay and went on our way. Never thinking about it, assuming that insurance would do the job we paid them to do.

Exactly 6 months later we received bills, after I no longer had insurance (I had to leave my phd for variety of reasons), and addressed to our kids’ names and not mine, the policy holder, for substantial amounts. Apparently, my daughter owed over $400 and my son owed over $1600 to the doctor office, which was the net left over after the insurance contributed about $200 for each visit.

Naturally, I was dumbfounded. I already paid $1400, which I had to ask my department head for an advance to cover their own insurance (there were no monthly payment plans offered by the way), but they only covered about 20% of the medical bills? Ironically, as an uninsured I would have been able to get a discounted rate and probably pay less than the amount I actually owed after the insurance company gave their dues.

I still don’t understand it and they are unwilling to work with me. Hence, the bills have gone to a collection agency. I’m refusing to pay for the time being and my kids, at 4 and 6, have their first negative credit rating. Presumably, anyways, since the idiots never fixed the billing information.

This burn, though, has contributed to a deep mistrust in the insurance industry, further feeding my indignations about acquiring individual care – of course we couldn’t afford the monthly premiums anyways so the point is moot.


By Tuesday we weren’t left with any choice. My son had just gotten out of a bath and though he wasn’t cold, his hand and his feet were blue. I’d never seen it like that before. My wife laid it down and we were going to the Urgent Care. We all got dressed and heading over there early. He was miserable, crying in pain cause he couldn’t get enough oxygen. We were scared that we might have waited too long. Hyperventilations were eking their way out.

At Urgent Care, it is first-come first-served. We waited, about 3rd in line, while my son writhed in his mother’s lap. My daughter, being too young, fooled around and chattered, clueless to the gravity of the situation. He whispered to his mother that he couldn’t breathe. In a desperate voice she urged me to tell the receptionist. I got up and pathetically explained, “excuse me, but my son is having trouble breathing. He says he can’t breathe.” The receptionist must have seen the scare in my eyes and she hastily called back to nurses to go into the waiting room and check on us. It was apparent that we weren’t exaggerating and we will be forever grateful that they took our plea seriously.

After an initial screening by the nurses and the doctor on-call, who first diagnosed the pneumonia based on symptoms and lung sounds, they sent us across the street to the Emergency Room. But, in fact, it was my wife who first recognized all the symptoms and was our little wonder boy’s advocate. She had pneumonia 12 years ago and nearly wasted away from it. It took years to recover her strength and more of her lung capacity. She made that diagnosis and I didn’t want to believe it, because I knew a hospital visit was going to financially crush us. I never said it, I can’t guarantee I even was thinking it at the time. But that is part of the mindset when you are uninsured. You don’t need to consciously think about it, the nagging dollar bill is waved in front of your eyes every time a health concern surfaces.

The x-rays confirmed our fears, he had a very large mass of pneumonia in his right lung. Right in the area he was trying to tell me earlier was hurting him. Right in the area that I so foolishly shrugged off as “probably just sore from all the coughing”. Subsequent tests showed the culprit, Streptococcus pneumoniae, was in his blood cultures as well. So this microbial nemesis, who felled thousands of our ancestors only a hundred years ago – so much so that by 1918 it surpassed Tuberculosis as the leading cause of death until the wide use of antibiotics – has infected the blood stream of my beloved son.

The symptoms of pneumonia have changed little as described by the famous medical scholar Hippocrates, who wrote in the 4th century BCE: “If the fever be acute, and if there be pains on either side, or in both, and if expiration be if cough be present, and the sputa expectorated be of a blond or livid color, or likewise thin, frothy, and florid, or having any other character different from the common.[...]” It does not sounds pleasant, nor is it.

By a stroke of luck, the strain he is battling off is one of the weaker strains, easily killed by Amoxicillin, an affordable antibiotic. Under the close supervision of an extraordinary group of nurses and pediatricians, the Amazing Elliot has made a wonderful recovery and will hopefully go home tomorrow morning. He couldn’t be happier. He woke up this morning sad with tears welling up in his eyes. He must have drawn about a dozen pictures of himself outside with his dog Peaches under the sun. Being in a hospital, even for a handful of days, is wearisome and he’s had enough. Especially since he feels good right now and sick of the beeping sensors and tangled tubes, sick of having me fetch to jug for him when he has to pee – which seems to happen hourly thanks to the constant IV drip.


My son outside in the sunshine, with his dog Peaches and the get well balloons his Uncle Ryan sent him. Drawn on my Kindle Fire doodle app.


The mindset of being uninsured is not , well… reassuring. It causes you to take risks that your peers do not need to take. It creates a perpetual fear that anything you do will eat up your life savings or kill you. Indeed, it has for us on one occasion. Nearly a decade ago when my wife was in constant pain for over a day, and after she could not take it anymore, I rushed her to emergency room. They had no clue, it was a worthless visit. They just looked at us dumbfounded and tried to get her to take antibacterials and be on her way. They even did unnecessary x-rays.

All of that was of course billed to us. We had saved up for 4 years to visit her family in Sweden. Every last cent, about $4000 was wiped clean. Apparently the practice of fleecing the uninsured was a commonplace action at this central Californian hospital and we were part of class action lawsuit against them. So many people were involved and the lawyers’ fees so high that we barely recovered anything from it.

Despite my mistrust of the insurance industry, its not like I wouldn’t jump at the chance to grab affordable coverage. But the coverage I am offered as a self-employed citizen scales with how much I’m willing to pay. For a lot of money, my family can be 80%+ covered. Like I said before, these numbers just don’t work. Though our expenditures are low, I don’t make enough money. For less money we can be covered for emergency situations. But how do I know they will keep their end of the bargain? Even if I get scraped out of a $1000, it’s sadly not enough to fight over in court given the costs involved in that battle.

Being uninsured is an entrapment. And you know it’s a trap but you have no choice but to proceed, which means you sometimes proceed overcautiously. This is why the mindset is different. It’s not overprotection of the children as much as it is the overprotection of the family unit – keeping us and our lifestyle intact.

Most of the uninsured in this country aren’t lazy, freeloading hobos who don’t wanna work. They span a wide variety of demographics. As a 30 something, white male with advanced college degree who works full time as a self-employed consultant and writer are you surprised that I cannot afford health insurance for my family? In fact, the majority of uninsured are in my age range and are full or part time workers earning incomes above 100% the federal poverty level. The fact of the matter for many of the uninsured is that employment-sponsored coverage has been in decline due to the escalating costs of health care. Employers can’t remain competitive and pay double the costs they were paying a decade ago for insuring their workers. An October 2011 report from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured found that

“Job-based coverage has been gradually declining since 2000, even during years when the economy was stronger and growth in health insurance premiums was slowing.  From 2007 to 2010, the percentage of the nonelderly population with employer-sponsored coverage declined by approximately 5%.[...] Even when workers can afford coverage for themselves, the cost of health insurance for their families is often prohibitive. Employees in firms with many low-wage workers are typically asked to contribute a larger share of the insurance premium than employees of firms with fewer low-wage workers (38% vs. 27% of the premium costs for family coverage). Declines in dependent coverage accounted for more than half of the recent decline in employer-sponsored insurance.”

Uninsured people look just like everyone else. They might look like they can easily afford the premiums and in fact might earn salaries similar to yours. But every family’s situations and employment-based coverage options are unique and this goes far beyond stereotypes of the “working poor”. My son could have suffocated from his pneumonia had we not sucked it up and rushed him to the hospital on Tuesday morning. If we were able to see a doctor a day earlier, he perhaps could have been treated at home as an outpatient with antibiotics. I don’t know what our final bill will be when we leave tomorrow morning, right now I don’t care. All I know is my son got better under the supervision of a wonderful team of nurses and pediatricians. My community has income-based charity care which will hopefully reduce our bill to a much more manageable sum. All minor details when the stakes are as high as your children’s lives. Plus, we can sleep in beds without motors.

**Graphs in this post are from the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured’s report The Uninsured: A Primer, Key Facts About Americans Without Health Insurance, October 2011. Pdf available for download here.

Kevin Zelnio About the Author: Kevin has a M.Sc. degree in biology from Penn State, a B.Sc. in Evolution and Ecology from University of California, Davis, and has worked at as a researcher at several major marine science institutions. His broad academic research interests have encompassed population genetics, biodiversity, community ecology, food webs and systematics of invertebrates at deep-sea chemosynthetic environments and elsewhere. Kevin has described several new species of anemones and shrimp. He is now a freelance writer, independent scientist and science communications consultant living near the Baltic coast of Sweden in a small, idyllic village.

Kevin is also the assistant editor and webmaster for Deep Sea News, where he contributes articles on marine science. His award-winning writing has been appeared in Seed Magazine, The Open Lab: Best Writing on Science Blogs (2007, 2009, 2010), Discovery Channel, ScienceBlogs, and Environmental Law Review among others. He spends most of his time enjoying the company of his wife and two kids, hiking, supporting local breweries, raising awareness for open access, playing guitar and songwriting. You can read up more about Kevin and listen to his music at his homepage, where you can also view his CV and Résumé, and follow him twitter and Google +. Editor's Selection Posts on EvoEcoLab!

Follow on Twitter @kzelnio.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 69 Comments

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  1. 1. Southern Fried Scientist 7:03 pm 02/10/2012

    Wow, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what I could say. A piece of writing hasn’t moved me like this since “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”.

    Articles like this should be read on the floor of the Senate and the House of Representatives. And if any elected official is not moved to tears, they should be removed from office on the grounds that they are not a human being.

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  2. 2. Luna_the_cat 7:09 pm 02/10/2012

    Yi. Gods.

    I had no idea what a close thing this was, and how tough this is for you.

    The US system is shameful. And if you need help with the bill for this (as I imagine you will), I can only pitch in a little, but I’d be happy to pitch in.

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  3. 3. jctyler 7:44 pm 02/10/2012

    greatest country on earth and all that? best of the third-world really!

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  4. 4. ransomhall 8:21 pm 02/10/2012

    Very well written! That is THE most moving article I have ever read on SA. Those who have the power to change our health care system ironically have some of the best coverage available. They very quickly pass bills with bipartisan support to make sure it stays that way. No expense is spared to keep our elected officials (and their families) healthy so they can continue to do nothing about solving this problem.

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  5. 5. ValerieUT 9:01 pm 02/10/2012

    The US profit driven healthcare “system” can best be compared in an inverse lottery. You can do everything right, save for retirement, etc… but one day WHAM you have a healthcare crisis. Everything you’ve worked for is wiped out in one episode. Our local paper lists fundraisers for people with a health care crisis almost daily.

    I would love to quit my stressful job and start my own business. Because I have 2 major chronic diseases, the thought of being uninsured or having to pay completely for my own policy stops me from starting a business. Consequently, my health may be deteriorating at a faster rate through increased stress and lack of control over the situation. How many others are like me and would start a small business if there was a public health care system as a safety net?

    What is the collective additive stress level on the American population knowing they could be financially devastated in a moment’s notice (diagnosis or accident)? Isn’t there a common underlying fear in our population?

    I was very upset that our health care “reform” left insurers in the system. For profit health insurance does nothing but take billions of profits out of the system and add costs to providers. Even though I’m supposedly insured, I’ve paid thousands out of pocket while fighting denial and additional proof/paperwork at every step.

    I hope I’m able to move to Europe or Canada for retirement where healthcare is a basic right.

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  6. 6. Percival 9:28 pm 02/10/2012

    Kevin, I can easily sympathize. I’m 59, male, married and hold down an ironic job making eco-industrial stuff like oil spill booms out of plastic (it wasn’t my preferred career path either). I work so hard I don’t need to work out, if you see what I mean; in three years I’ve seen twentysomethings come and go because they can’t physically hack it.

    I have pretty average insurance through my job that offers NO coverage for spouses or children. Last year my wife had a heart attack. In order for her to get state-sponsored coverage (she’s disabled by an untreatable form of peripheral neuropathy) we had to separate. I now rent my brother-in-law’s basement across town and visit my wife every other day or so.

    The kids are grown and live out of state meaning we don’t even get to visit the grandkids. Skype isn’t the same but it’s better than nothing.

    Yeah, I’d like to have free congresscritter-level health care too, but it just isn’t there to go around.

    What’s the fairest possible solution, nationalizing all healthcare “for free” by supporting it through taxes? The USSR tried that and it worked OK AIUI but I’m in the 11% bracket already, at <30K/yr.

    Whatever happened to "expert systems"? Why isn't there a government-sponsored Universal Health Care app that can make diagnoses with a smartphone's onboard sensors, write prescriptions and make referrals to a human when absolutely necessary?

    Stay strong, Kevin. We have no choice. People depend on us.

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  7. 7. psibbald 10:17 pm 02/10/2012

    Australians tend to complain about the state of our health care system. Sometimes it seems like a national pass time. Horror stories like this really serve to demonstrate how lucky we are over here. While our system is not without its flaws and ongoing treatment can be expensive, at least I know that if a member of my family has a medical emergency I can present myself at the Emergency ward of a public hospital and expect a reasonable level of treatment without taking out a mortgage on my house.
    That in a rich, developed country such as the US, childhood vaccinations and emergency treatment are considered luxurious is frankly incredible. It is truly appalling that anyone in a first world country should have to wait until the last minute to seek medical treatment for a gravely ill child because of financial considerations.

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  8. 8. SeparationCS 10:33 pm 02/10/2012

    I grew up without insurance and suffered a bout of pneumonia. It was awful. We were turned away from one hospital because I am mixed race and my mom is white!

    I had to cash out 9 years of retirement a few years ago to pay for medical bills for myself and my son. I was a working chemist at the time! Simple things like recurring ingrown toenail surgeries and a cone biopsy of the uterus wiped out 9 years of previous work.

    I am now recovering from a sever ear infection and have been placed on an at home IV system of antibiotics. I am also recovering from a lumpectomy which included a CT scan. I am so grateful to have insurance; it has all been <$75 in copay. I settled on a 'safe' government job with nice benefits.

    It is a crime to have to choose between rent and medicine. It is a bigger crime to have to choose between the career of your dreams and insurance. I am so sorry for your struggle!

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  9. 9. Dolly13 10:42 pm 02/10/2012

    Sad story, beautifully told, describing a problem that’s only gotten more common and more pressing in the last few years. We were in a very similar situation once. I wish you and your family the best.

    A majority of Americans understand the problem and wanted a “Medicare for all” type plan when health care was on the legislative table a few years ago. Various polls showed figures between 50% and 70% in favor of single payer — but as long as huge profits are to be had in our current system, and as long as legislators receive huge campaign contributions from these big-money players (because corporations are “people” and money is “protected political speech”), our legislators simply won’t do it.

    The political will of the majority just doesn’t matter anymore. The Citizens United decision made the problem worse. The people sitting in Congress care more about getting re-elected than taking action so that people don’t die.

    In 2009 the American Journal of Public Health estimated that 45,000 annual deaths in the United States are associated with the lack of health insurance. That’s like…losing more than the number of people we lost on 9/11, every month. Every month. Pointless, brutally unfair deaths. Why should those people die? Where’s the outrage?

    Honestly, until people take to the streets en masse and demand change, it’s going to continue to get worse. Writing letters to legislators won’t do it. Petitions won’t do it. Voting won’t do it. Expressing our outrage via social media won’t do it (the Komen PR flap notwithstanding). Unfortunately, the system is too far gone — if our elected officials cared about the will of the people or thousands of people needlessly dying every month, they would have acted by now.

    PS @Valerie I know many people in similar situations — they’d love to be self-employed, and the cost of health coverage keeps them enslaved to an employer they’d otherwise leave. Other families I know, with young kids, would opt for working part-time when their kids are small, so that neither parent has to choose between a career and family time. There are many repercussions to using this failed health-care system, beyond just access to affordable heath care. This system dictates how we arrange our lives.

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  10. 10. GG 12:22 am 02/11/2012

    This is what happens when you mix financial profit with healthcare. The business side asks for profit margins, and the business side always has the last word.Pay up or die!

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  11. 11. littledove 12:31 am 02/11/2012

    Great article on the health care situation in the US. We all need to be studying herbal medicines as if our lives depended upon it.

    If Kevin had turned to an herbalist, they could have saved him the stress and expense of the emergency room.

    Herbal knowledge + a fresh vegetarian diet = health without doctors, hospital or pharmaceuticals… barring auto accidents or plane crashes.

    Medical science today is based on the premise that all of us should be on as many drugs as possible for the rest of our lives, and kept in permanent debt.

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  12. 12. leafwarbler 12:47 am 02/11/2012

    Glad to hear he is out of the worst now, and that it was an easily treatable strain. My own then 6-yo had her brush with pneumonia 6 years ago when I was in single parent mode (wife was trying to finish her dissertation) in the first year of my new tenure-track job. Luckily, we had the good insurance that came with my job, and good doctors who managed to avoid hospitalization, but we came close. That’s when I also discovered the value of family-friendly department like mine, which allowed me to cancel classes and stay home with my child for an entire week (and they’re covering for me right now while I’m in India grieving my mom)! These things can turn nasty pretty quickly, especially in active kids, so I am really glad you managed to bite the bullet on the urgent care in time. I hope the bill doesn’t hit you too hard, but I’m sure our little community in the blogosphere can pitch in if needed.

    As others have said, thank you for sharing your story and placing it within the broader context of how the US healthcare system fails so many people for no good reason. I guess you can’t wait to get out of this crazy system now and into the embrace of that sweet socialized safety net of Sweden! My best wishes to your son and the rest of your family, and I hope you all stay healthy until you’re out of this system!

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  13. 13. leafwarbler 1:44 am 02/11/2012

    And I just noticed that David Kroll is already rallying folks around to help a brother by giving back some of the love you’ve given us all! For others reading this post, here’s David’s post with a paypal link for contributions to the #IAmUninsured #IAmScience fund:

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  14. 14. Glendon Mellow 2:08 am 02/11/2012

    I want to gather all my favourite Americans up and make them Canadian. Your health system is fundamentally opposed to health.

    Kevin, your poor boy will bounce back as you already know. I hope you high-five him for kicking pneumonia’s ass. I’ll be thinking about you guys. Beautifully written.

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  15. 15. Kerstin 3:26 am 02/11/2012

    This is terrible. I am glad your son is better and I hope you all can recover quickly now.
    I live in a country with universal healthcare (and no, we are not socialists), and although the system is far from perfect, it does allow for a life largely free of those fears and anxieties you describe.
    That this shouldn’t be possible in a country as innovative and powerful as the US is hard to imagine. And quite sad, too.
    Good luck to you and your family. Stay strong!

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  16. 16. killgrove 8:15 am 02/11/2012

    Kevin, what a great (and moving) post. After my parents got divorced when I was 7, we lost insurance coverage – my mom did the numbers and, to stay in our house, she realized she couldn’t also afford health insurance. I was uninsured until I was out of college and got a job at 23. In the meantime, she (a nurse) relied on her own intuition and the generosity of doctor friends to get immunizations, check-ups, sports physicals, and prescriptions for me and my brother.

    What I learned from her is that hospitals will often reduce your bill if they find out you’re uninsured. They charge premiums to insurance companies but will frequently halve or quarter the bill they send you if you just call, explain the situation, and ask for a reduction. She reduced my brother’s hospital stay (appendicitis, just after he lost coverage through his employer and forgot to sign up for COBRA) simply by asking. So if you haven’t asked to reduce the bills, you should try – you have nothing to lose, really.

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  17. 17. kclancy 9:13 am 02/11/2012

    Thank you for writing this, Kevin. You should not have had to wrestle with these decisions, not when the stakes are as high as the health and life of your son. I am so sorry for what you and your family had to go through and I am rooting for you.

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  18. 18. CogSciLibrarian 9:31 am 02/11/2012

    I’m so sorry to read this. My experience as a new North Carolinian is that N.C. is not very helpful in situations like yours. I moved from Massachusetts where all must have health care (tho I shudder to think the cost). All the best to you and your family.

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  19. 19. julieb42 10:13 am 02/11/2012

    Great article, I sympathize completely with what Mr. Zelnio and his family are going through. The donation system set up is a great idea and it’s heartening to know that people care so much. I would also recommend that Mr. Zelnio look at the health care programs run by the state (if he hasn’t already.) I believe that in North Carolina there is one called Health Choice for Children for which he is likely to qualify for even if his family is technically above the federal poverty level. Having some sort of coverage through HCC or similar programs could both reduce the costs of making sure his children receive adequate medical attention,and reduce their parents anxiety.
    Best of luck to Mr. Zelnio and his family, and I hope his son is doing well – getting fresh air and sunshine.

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  20. 20. Eowyn 12:39 pm 02/11/2012

    Mr. Zelnio’s story is sad indeed. But I’ll be the lone dissenter among the commenters here.

    Throughout his tear-jerking account, not once did Zelnio admit that his behaviors and his choices have consequences. It is Zelnio who chose to support a wife and 2 kids on a M.A. graduate student’s salary — which is not meant to support an entire family. It is Zelnio who chose to discontinue his Ph.D. studies and so forfeited even that salary. It is Zelnio who chose to get “renter’s or home, wind and hail, flood, car, life” insurance, but not medical insurance, although he knows full well how expensive medical care is. It is Zelnio who chose to gamble that he and his family would not require emergency care or hospitalization.

    He gambled and lost. So now he wants other people to pay for his family’s medical insurance via a “single payer” system. Though some of the commenters deny it, that is socialism.

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  21. 21. Lou Jost 1:14 pm 02/11/2012

    I also was moved to tears.

    jctyler (#3) said “greatest country on earth and all that? best of the third-world really!”

    I have news for you. I now live in a third world country, Ecuador. Once, I thought I broke a toe. I went to our local hospital and they x-rayed me, analyzed the results, gave me their opinion (“not broken”) and said good-bye. I asked “Where do I pay?” and they said no, you don’t owe us anything. “Not even for the x-ray film?” No, nothing. The doctor said “we are on the road to completely free health care.”

    Having said that, some of the free hospitals are extremely over-crowded, and some people do die in waiting lines. But I bet the equivalent happens in the US as well.

    Also, every single payrolled worker here is enrolled in a mandatory health care/social security program. I was not on a payroll when I went to the hospital for my toe.

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  22. 22. Cynops 1:20 pm 02/11/2012

    Doesn’t North Carolina have a Children’s Health Insurance Program? Utah does and the income cut off for a family of four is $44,700. There are premiums but they are capped at $75 a quarter and the total out of pocket annual costs are capped at 5% of your gross.

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  23. 23. rmartyniak 2:25 pm 02/11/2012


    I’ll agree with you that Kzelnio gambled at playing ‘the game’, and lost. I’ve even chided him for choosing a risky field, one that has relatively few good positions in this current fiscal climate. I suppose that was easy for me, as I both my wife and I chose safe, predictable fields of study. Even when I left the comfy confines of State University employment to start my own firm, my wife continued in her tenured position, with decent insurances. We are not gambling, and are ‘winning’. Easy to stop now..

    But here’s the thing, All of us, players and gamblers, are only a step away from ruin. One illness or accident could render our safety nil. Our insurances will only go so far leaving us hanging in the wind.

    And that’s just wrong. Health care costs keep rising ,(we could argue reasons), taking higher proportions of family budgets, and the spectre of personal financial catastrophe looms.

    The system is seriously flawed and, imo, it’s time to nationalize the system, much like defense, national highways and primary education.

    And don’t think I share Kzelnio’s political views. I’m center-right, politically, but politics shouldn’t matter when it comes to what’s right for basic human needs.

    I’ll be helping a fellow sci-brother out in his time of need too..

    Link to this
  24. 24. Alex Wild 2:59 pm 02/11/2012

    I’m with rmartyniak. I don’t care whether something can be labelled as “socialistic”. That shit only matters to idealogues who’d rather see children die than cede an inch to political opponents.

    I care about whether a system serves its purpose and if it is fair. Our current healthcare scheme fails on both counts. It is extremely expensive while delivering uneven results.

    What free-market purpose does making small business owners and the self-employed pay twice as much for insurance that’s only half as good? Our current system is a travesty for true entrepreneurship.

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  25. 25. DSchultz 4:34 pm 02/11/2012

    And yet all of the Republican presidential candidates promise to repeal “Obamacare” as their first act in office and revert to the status quo. What planet are they living on?

    Link to this
  26. 26. AllanRBrewer 4:58 pm 02/11/2012

    I also was shocked by the story.

    Here in the UK, as in many other countries, all medical services are paid for by the state i.e. taxpayers. We are not socialists (silly argument), the system is supported by governments of right and left, and there are always on-going efforts to keep costs down and standards up.

    With Medicare, Medicaid and all the special schemes the USA has to try to make medical access universal, why do you continue to allow the insurance industry to be an expensive passenger that contributes nothing. It also sounds as if the actual medical charges in the USA are excessive – Kevin said the insurance contributed $200 per visit but they were still issued with large bills. Most vaccines cost between $7 and $50 so addding 5 minutes of doctor’s time there is no way a “vaccine-visit” should cost more than $200.

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  27. 27. psibbald 5:36 pm 02/11/2012


    While I admit I didn’t follow all of the details of the “Obamacare” debate (living in Australia), I could never quite understand the “That’s socialism” position. As someone looking in, it appears that a significant section of the US populace is terrified that the provision of accessible healthcare will be the death of freedom in the US. Can it really be preferable to know that one’s fellow citizens are dying on a daily basis or living stunted lives due to medical conditions which could be relatively easily treated? I suppose devaluing them by taking the view that they gambled and lost, or that their circumstances are due to their own poor decisions may make it easier.

    Quite frankly, to have part of the population unable to access basic healthcare in a wealthy society indicates to me that that society is dysfunctional. Such a situation appears to be only a step or two above actual slavery.

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  28. 28. abrashtx 6:04 pm 02/11/2012

    Eowyn, I have a great idea. Why don’t you email or phone Kevin using your real name and explain his poor life decisions to him and his spouse. I’m SURE they would appreciate hearing from such a morally superior person such as yourself.

    Link to this
  29. 29. Luna_the_cat 7:32 pm 02/11/2012

    @leafwarbler, thank you for the link to that. My contribution will be on its way shortly.

    @littledove, you’re an idiot. Under herbalism as a healthcare system, which is what people had for most of history, the average lifespan was 45 and infant mortality was well above 20%. The people on this board are, for the most part, scientifically literate enough not to believe in paranoid conspiracy theories about evil doctors, either. Most of us know too many doctors.


    For the rest: I’m going to chime in again as another UK resident. I grew up in the US, though, and have family still there, and so I have experience of both medical systems. I will say without any hesitation or doubt that the UK’s NHS is not perfect, but certainly better than what you’ve got there; America can potentially offer the best healthcare in the world, but only if you are rich or lucky, and for most people accessing it is expensive at best and completely out of reach at worst, and that is not a solution.

    It seems to me, though, that there is a basically different cultural assumption underlying healthcare in America than what most of the rest of the world has. America seems to regard healthcare as a consumer issue, like buying a car.It is not assumed that anyone has a “right” to it any more than it is assumed anyone has a “right” to a car, and there seems to be a feeling among at least some that it is perfectly fair that if you can’t pay for it you can’t have it. In Europe, at least, I would say it is instead regarded as more of a national infrastructure issue, like education, and like education it is regarded as more of a right. Also like education, it is assumed that you need to ensure that the biggest majority possible of your population have effective access to it because that is what creates a stable workforce and thus stable middle class and stable economy. That understanding seems to be largely lacking in American policy; in America there is a substitute ideology of “I shouldn’t ever have to pay for other people” (without an awareness that, in indirect ways, everyone already is).

    If it makes Americans feel any better about a coherent system, you can point out that it is just like insurance is actually supposed to be: you are paying into a “risk pool” for everyone with your taxes, but the services are there for you, too, whenever you need them. For example, I had a “cardiac event” last April, and spent the summer getting scans and stress tests and angiograms and being loaded down with beta blockers and such. I paid nothing for any of that, I’d already paid for it with my taxes.

    The irony of course is that in reality I pay no more taxes here than I would in the US. But if I lived and paid taxes in the US I would have insurance costs and co-pays on top of the tax. It works out so much better for me here.

    …I really worry for my friends and family in the US. Like Glendon Mellow says, I just want to sweep up all my favourite people and bring you to a more civilised country.

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  30. 30. rmartyniak 9:25 pm 02/11/2012

    “The irony of course is that in reality I pay no more taxes here than I would in the US. But if I lived and paid taxes in the US I would have insurance costs and co-pays on top of the tax.”

    I’d LOVE to see data that supports^^^

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  31. 31. tlongman 10:29 pm 02/11/2012

    Re: Eowyn–
    Does it matter if it might be socialism? I don’t believe it is, as our mutual protection is one of the benefits of a civilized society. Health care is, justifiably, considered a “right” in most of the civilized world, not just something that you can have only if you can afford it. I’ve watched health care insurance cost continue to rise over the past twenty years and benefits continue to decline. Already our health system (if you can call it that!) is six times more expensive than the next and we are WAY DOWN the list in terms of health care. ObamaCare, if you want to call it that (the Republicans have coined a derogative name for everything) is the only sensible thing to happen to health care for many years. Let’s hope the politicians keep their grubby hands off of it.

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  32. 32. DSchultz 1:45 am 02/12/2012

    My late father would have explained it to me as follows:

    “When you chose to have children, you forfeited the right to follow your “dream job”. Your satisfaction with your job is not as important as your ability to provide necessary support and protection for your children. Therefore you must abandon your present job and find a responsible middle management position in a major corporation that will provide your family with group health insurance. Your pay and benefits are all that matters, job satisfaction is for hippies.”

    The present US health care system, the best in the world, was designed by wise corporate leaders who know what is best for America. If we provided health care to every irresponsible hippie who chooses to remain in a contract teaching and research environment at some ivory-tower university, we would quickly degenerate into some European socialist society where people do whatever they want with their lives instead of contributing their life toward building up the great capitalistic corporate enterprise that defines America.

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  33. 33. asthedragonflies 2:27 am 02/12/2012

    I can sympathize because I am among those who have a spouse who is insured through his employer, but it is cost-prohibitive to add me to his plan. The premium just for me plus the deductible for anything other than governmentally-required preventative care ( is over 15 percent of his gross income.
    My employee benefits don’t include health insurance, but I’m certainly trying to find a job that does.

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  34. 34. cat27sailor 9:31 am 02/12/2012

    I cannot empathize with your situation, but I do sympathize. I have several times had serious health scares with my children, each of which ended with a visit to a hospital emergency room. There the our common experience ends. I am a retired Naval Officer, my wife is an active duty Naval Officer. One of the benefits of military service is exceptionally good medical and health coverage for the active duty member and his or her family members. During each of my visits to a hospital emergency room, I marveled at the fact that there was no concern or worry as to how I would pay for the care my child was receiving. Of course I was very thankful that I could at anytime of day or night, get immediate and complete health care for my family. At the same time, I wondered how families without such care or insurance plans managed such situations. I have no idea what the best solution to our health care dilemma might be, but it is obvious from your experience, that something needs to be done, and done soon.

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  35. 35. ejwillingham 11:26 am 02/12/2012

    Hey, “Eowyn.” You know what? Healthcare, especially healthcare for children, shouldn’t have to involve a “gamble” of any kind. Period. Here’s a fun fact: if you’re old, you get “socialized” healthcare in this country. It’s called “Medicare.” But if you’re anyone else, apparently, you’re not deserving of that.

    You can try to pin the meaningless Tea Party buzz word “socialized” to it as a way to argue against a straw man of “gambling.” But “gambling” is what insurance companies do, and they do it with people’s savings, jobs, health, and lives. What people do is get sick, not because of gambling, but because they are animals susceptible to all manner of pathogenic invasion, molecular twists and turns of their own bodies, and damages from without and within. No amount of planning, retirement savings, or careful insuring can prevent that–or keep it from destroying people financially. Why? Because we do not have the appropriate safeguards available for every man, woman, and child in our nation to have healthcare access without that possibility. You call it “socialized.” I call it a safeguard that should be a right of every citizen in our nation.

    But in our fabulous country, some people are, frankly, inhuman in their hyperpoliticized attitudes about healthcare. I’m sure you watched some of them clap for death during the GOP debates. Perhaps you were there, clapping, as you seem incapable of understanding that treating pneumonia and septicemia in a six-year-old child should not be a question of a “gamble” and sure as shit shouldn’t be a moment to select to babble meaninglessly about socialism when the numbers show that the healthcare system in this nation is an utter joke played repeatedly on the people forced to buy into it, sometimes paying for it with literally everything they own, and sometimes paying for it with their *lives*.

    And you need to give Eowyn her name back. You’re tarnishing the hell out of it.

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  36. 36. tonbo 2:01 pm 02/12/2012

    I really, really hate to say it, it’s extremely mean in light of this article, but MOVE TO CANADA.

    I’m an American citizen who had a choice 20 years ago after living in Japan for five years — move back to the U.S., where my family were, or move to Canada, specifically Montreal, where I wouldn’t need a car and health care was free to immigrants. It took three years to become an immigrant, but now I’m a citizen. My son was born free. His multiple doctors’ visits were free. My one ER overnight visit was completely free — I estimated it would have cost $20,000 in the States.

    The only money we ever had to pay was on a visit to California. My son came down with Norwalk virus and we stupidly didn’t have insurance. $2,000 for three hours in ER. It JUST AIN’T WORTH IT.

    If you can afford a $4,000 hospital tab you can afford a fresh start in Canada. Trust me on this: It will be the best thing you ever did. You will NEVER be a fall off a bicycle away from the poorhouse.

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  37. 37. tonbo 2:17 pm 02/12/2012

    Oh, and uh, “littledove” . . . please take your herbalist crapola out of a serious debate on health care. I’m sure you’d be stuffing oil of marjoram down your 6-year-old’s convulsing body as he suffered a 105-degree fever — or wait, no, that’s for consumption, isn’t it? It’s Wolf’s bane for high fevers, plus the family must form a circle and hang a magnesium crystal above the boy’s Third Chakra while chanting the Healing Verses from the eighth chapter of the Omnium.

    And no doubt a quick re-chant of the last chapter of the Necronomicon should get you a discount at the funeral home.

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  38. 38. cshearson 2:21 pm 02/12/2012

    So all the ~190 million Americans between the ages of 20 and 65 must choose careers that offer good pay and benefits, or suffer the consequences? I would like to hear from @Eowyn and the other commentors who espouse this philosophy where exactly such jobs are to be found in the current American economy.

    Manufacturing? No, that’s been outsourced to developing countries.

    The pharmaceutical industry? No, big pharma has been slashing jobs right and left (speaking from personal experience here).

    Education? (After all, it’s common knowledge that teachers are overpaid and have cushy benefits and pensions.) No, teaching jobs are difficult to come by. By the way, if it’s so great to have a good-paying job with benefits, why are teachers so vilified for it?

    Government jobs? If the Republicans get their way, there won’t be any more of these.

    Medicine? The law? The hi-tech industry? Lots of jobs, maybe—but not everyone has the mental aptitude or training required for these jobs, and the cost of higher education has made acquiring that training extremely difficult.

    People who want become musicians, writers, or artists will have to do so at the price of their health and that of their children? Or should we do without music, books, and art?

    If we all going to be working in high-paying jobs, who’s going to work all the minimum wage/no benefits jobs in retail?

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  39. 39. Nanoraptor 4:51 pm 02/12/2012

    I see criticism of state-funded medical care and the claims that nothing is free – and you still PAY for it in the end.

    As an Australian who was unemployed for a decade and contracted pneumonia in 2009, it was *there* all the same. My out of pocket expenses for a week in hospital in an isolation room, a dozen x-rays, follow-up x-rays and antibiotics was a total of $9, and that was for both painkillers and non-hospital medication.

    That’s not $9,000, or $900, or a typo for $90, it’s nine dollars.

    I’m working now, thankfully, also due to getting the right psych treatment that addressed the mental issues that kept me unemployed – also free, all eighteen months worth of it. As a working Australian who is now one of the ones who typically complains about how they’re subsidising people who can’t afford to contribute to our Medicare – I hope every cent of the taxes I pay goes towards someone else who couldn’t afford medical care to get back in their feet. Pay it forward, always.

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  40. 40. leilah 5:17 pm 02/12/2012

    “The irony of course is that in reality I pay no more taxes here than I would in the US. But if I lived and paid taxes in the US I would have insurance costs and co-pays on top of the tax. It works out so much better for me here.”

    I’ll second this. I’m a US expat living in Canada. Between the provincial insurance ($45 a month, which my job covers) and my insurance through work (all paid by the company), I’ve got amazing coverage. I used to be uninsured and living in the US, and it was insane. My taxes were less than the US for years, and when my income improved I went into the next bracket – now they’re still marginally less than they were in the US.

    For a reference, try Wikipedia ( “The taxes are applied the same as well. Canada’s income tax system is more heavily biased against the highest income earners, thus while Canada’s income tax rate is higher on average, the bottom fifty percent of the population is roughly taxed the same on income as in the United States.”

    I think one of my best memories of having no insurance is when I had to have an impacted wisdom tooth surgically removed. I had to save up to afford the surgery itself (and skip paying my bills for a couple months), but couldn’t afford to have anesthesia. It was awful. Not life-threatening, but not having to make choices like that anymore is so liberating. If I’d actually been injured or had broken anything, I would have been in bankruptcy at age 23.

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  41. 41. Christopher Taylor 6:13 pm 02/12/2012

    Kevin, you have my best wishes.

    Now, as for a certain other person’s comments:

    It is Zelnio who chose to support a wife and 2 kids on a M.A. graduate student’s salary

    He chose to start a family with good prospects and, at the time, insurance support. Circumstances changed, as they often do. Besides, what about those who do not ‘choose’ to start a family? Even with good precautions, unexpected pregnancies can still happen.

    It is Zelnio who chose to discontinue his Ph.D. studies and so forfeited even that salary

    You ignorant slut. He didn’t ‘discontinue’, he completed his PhD. But the job market is ruthless, and not everyone ends up as well positioned as they might have hoped.

    It is Zelnio who chose to get “renter’s or home, wind and hail, flood, car, life” insurance, but not medical insurance, although he knows full well how expensive medical care is.

    This should not be an ‘either/or’ question. Both are necessary, therefore he should be able to get both. He should not have been forced to choose.

    He gambled and lost. So now he wants other people to pay for his family’s medical insurance via a “single payer” system. Though some of the commenters deny it, that is socialism.

    Caring for other people’s illnesses may cost you money, but you know what? Not caring for them costs you even more. A sick or deceased person is a drain on the economy. You are losing what they may have produced had they been well. If a six-year-old child dies, then the money that has already been paid by the state to support that child in their education, etc. has vanished down the well. If they live to healthy adulthood, then the profits from their livelihood can return the economy’s investment in them, and hopefully even more.

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  42. 42. Spike555 7:34 pm 02/12/2012

    4 years ago my wife had severe stomach pain and vomiting.
    She could not eat or drink, could not sleep, she was loosing weight.
    Finally after 3 months we got the kids out of bed around 2am and went to the emergency room.
    They did a x-ray, found out it was her gall bladder and she needed surgery.
    Then sent us home because we didn’t have health insurance.
    2 years go by with her being sick on and off, miserable, pale in color, almost yellow.
    Finally, it was so bad we had no choice, back to the emergency room, emergency surgery or she was going to die.
    Her liver and kidneys were failing, we had no health insurance.
    We also had zero debt, we paid cash for both cars, no credit cards, we rent our house, no loans of any kind…100% debt free.
    After the emergency room visit, emergency surgery, and 8 days recovery in the hospital we were now over $20,000 in debit to the hospital and doctors.
    We went from zero debt to $20,000 in 8 days.
    Had we had affordable health insurance this whole thing could have been avoided.
    The system needs to change.
    Health coverage for my family, non smokers, late 30′s, 2 kids…$320 per month with a $5,000 per person per year deductible.
    So basically you pay $320 per month so you can then pay for all of your basic health care needs out of pocket.
    Something needs to change.
    No person should go without health care.

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  43. 43. CaroSD 7:47 pm 02/12/2012

    I’ve repeated this story incredulously to many people over the past month or so. My American friend and her British husband, who live in Hong Kong, recently had an emergency situation where her husband was punched in the face (not his fault; drunk “friend” was responsible). The damage to his upper lip was so bad they had to be taken to the emergency room by ambulance and he had to have plastic surgery. What would this cost in America if one had no insurance? Upward of $5,000? More? Anyway, they paid $7.00 for utterly first-class treatment. WTH? And your son nearly died because of our 3rd world medical system? Actually, it’s probably more compassionate in the 3rd world. This is sickening.

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  44. 44. auntles 9:37 pm 02/12/2012

    Eowyn–I am always amazed when someone concludes an argument by saying “that is socialism.” Why does calling something socialism automatically exclude an idea that might be useful, fair, or appropriate from even being considered? I guess you think everyone should agree with you that if it’s socialism it must be evil, useless, or worse. Why do you make that assumption? Many of the things that make our country a decent place to live are/were organized by government for the public good, something our founding fathers agreed was necessary. Maybe you are one of those people who would prefer that police and fire departments, schools, the military, the post office, libraries, the highway system, infrastructure, and everything else the government supports be privately run. In my opinion, the private sector doesn’t have much of a track record when a good or service is a necessity and profits are more attractive than the public interest.

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  45. 45. Niallk 8:42 am 02/13/2012

    People who have Health Insurance have no qualms whatsoever about taking their kids to the Doctor at the slightest sign of sickness…I know…I used to have Health insurance for our Family, until the cost became prohibitive.

    Now I’m reduced to self diagnosis, and using subterfuge to convince the Doctor’s office to issue subscriptions without Medical exams.
    (I even have a stash of Amoxicillin… just in case!)

    My Son had Leukemia, and still has regular clinic visits, which are very expensive, and the mound of unpaid bills is getting bigger monthly.
    We are on payment schedules with Credit cards we had to use when he was sick, and couldn’t afford to pay.
    Our Credit is shot, so we can’t get a loan to expand our small Business.

    Another major illness or accident will probably cause us to lose our House.

    Bottom line is we live in a Country where one’s health, and the health of one’s family, is one of the main determining factors of the quality of life, and has the effect of dragging people down into the hole-ridden safety net that Republicans are trying to do away with.

    It sometimes feels like we live in a Third World Country.

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  46. 46. nala_b 1:14 pm 02/13/2012

    Kevin—I’m glad your son is fully recovered. Reading this article and the comments, I want to draw everyone’s attention to the fact that while it is often difficult and expensive to get health insurance for adults, state and federal governments have stepped up their efforts to provide low cost coverage for children. The heartbreaking thing about this is how much money is left on the table because families do not know these resources are available. Kevin, commenters—go to for information about CHiP, Medicaid, and other free or low cost programs that will cover children. Spread the word.

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  47. 47. joemac53 6:20 pm 02/13/2012

    I have used this argument to make my conservative friends see the light. There are no God-given rights. You have to fight and die for rights until humans are tired of killing each other. I ask my friends if they would kill to save their children. Most say of course they would.
    Then freakin’ health care should be a right. I am certainly tired of people dying for lack of care in the richest nation on the planet. I don’t know many who would give you the Ron Paul gibberish.

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  48. 48. Cath@VWXYNot? 6:38 pm 02/13/2012

    I don’t know why Americans aren’t taking to the streets demanding a decent health care system. Seriously: it’s a mystery to me.

    Glad to hear the little ‘un is well on his way to recovery.

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  49. 49. helenchappell 3:25 pm 02/14/2012

    While I’m glad that commenters here have defended Kevin’s position — one that’s not uncommon here, as awful as it is — I want to say that I’m incredibly disappointed in @Christopher Taylor’s comment above.

    Disagreeing with someone is no cause to call them an “ignorant slut.”

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  50. 50. AmberDru 5:13 pm 02/14/2012

    You don’t say what your household income is so it’s hard to say if you could afford insurance or not. Some people have gotten jobs just because it provided insurance even if they didn’t find the work interesting. It doesn’t seem like your or your wife is willing to do that. You did have $4,000 to travel though.

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  51. 51. Spike555 9:47 pm 02/14/2012

    @AmberDru-$350 per month for health insurance is $4200 a year.
    Plus the deductible, plus the co-pay’s and medication that is not covered.

    And working at a job that you do not enjoy? Really? We need to be miserable in life just so we can be healthy?

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  52. 52. pwrdesigner 3:35 pm 02/15/2012

    I understand exactly what you are saying, Kevin. I feel just as trapped.

    As a late 20-something, I need to ask: what about those of us who are paying student loans which were oversold to us with the promise of a better career, a better life, a bigger home…which dreams have been taken away because my loan payments are the equivalent of a mortgage. The usual response I hear to this question is “oh, c’mon! You are young; just quit worrying about it! Nothing will happen to you!”

    Quit worrying?!

    I have nothing. I technically do not even own my 14 year-old car—the insurance on it is far cheaper for me as the primary driver on a vehicle my father of 61 years old owns. Yet, I am just barely above the poverty line, and do not qualify for any type of aid. Every penny I make is accounted for and spent before I even see it. I have rent costs, food costs, heating bills, fuel, car insurance…which thanks to my father’s generosity, is cheaper than what it should be.

    My employer’s heath insurance offerings are nearing 15% of what I make per month for a single party. If I had a family, it would be 38%. My salary is low, but in this job market I do not have the luxury of leaving. I’ve been trying and looking to do so for 3 years. That 15% number combined with all of my other costs, simply does not work.

    So if I were to break a wrist, twist a ligament, contract pneumonia, or have that heart attack my stressful job is setting me up for, I have nothing to pay for recovery. Nothing. So what do I do? Where do I go? What am I willing to sacrifice for the bottle of antibiotics that cures my pneumonia? My food for the week? My heat? My apartment? Even if I did opt-in to my employer’s health coverage, what would I use towards my deductible or copay? Better yet, what can they take from me when they find out I have no way to pay for my hospital stay?

    Quit worrying, they tell me. How can we, Kevin? Our system is practically stressing us into having to use it. Perhaps one day we will finally have a voice, and find someone who will truly listen.

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  53. 53. Cloud_comp 2:05 pm 02/16/2012

    I wanted to comment on Medicare as a safety net. It to me 20 years of being uninsured to receive Medicare AFTER my condition became so great it made me legally disabled.

    I am no dummy. I was raised poor with poverty values and I still managed to pull myself up and get a Master’s Degree. But I dedicated my life to working for non-profits and that comes with a cost both in less pay and less if any medical care.

    I feel your pain. I looked to herbal medicine to cure me because it was cheaper and I could make it myself. However there are some things that herbal medicine just can’t cure.

    I look back to all the free clinic doctors I saw and even the regular ones that looked at me and said “no, no ultra sound” and “no, no MRI, she doesn’t have insurance.” I look to the ones that could not believe I drove myself to the emergency room with blood coming out my ears. I look to the ones that blamed me for being fat and would not touch me because I disgusted them so.

    So 37 years later i’m looking at my first MRI to see if I have a brain tumor and Cushing’s Syndrome. It doesn’t help I already have another severe thyroid condition that made me gain this weight as well in which I had to push to get a simple ultrasound done.

    I had no control and yet I pay every day for my “crimes” because when you are ugly and poor, no one wants to touch you, or go the extra mile to see why you are sick. Last summer I nearly died because four different doctors did not read my medication chart and realize I had been overdosed while my regular doctor was away.

    And when you are raised poor, you are raised to treat doctors, even the rude ones, with a high level of respect. If they are wrong or give the diagnosis wrong you accept it and don’t argue. But the truth is they are working for you and being paid by you.

    It is bad enough people look at their kids and have decide between a day at work and their job or shoving them on the school bus and hoping no one notices. No one should have to wait till a situation goes from a little sick to a dangerous infection. That goes for adults or a child.

    In the end, the most chronic cases cost everyone. And we all pay for that economical medical selection, that game of who lives and who dies. And this happens in the richest country in the world who touts the most advanced medical care available.

    I am thankful for Medicare but I would give anything to go back to when I was 16, seeing the nurse practitioner my family could only afford, and having her know what was wrong, having an ultrasound, getting a CT for the possible tumor. I’d be a different person. I’d not be disabled.

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  54. 54. razorsedge 3:42 am 02/17/2012

    Thank you for sharing your story, it is an important account that resonates with my experience on returning to the U.S. after many years living in Japan. I have a 6 year old too, and as someone self employed, have been thinking along your lines. The Japanese system is a very comforting one when it comes to raising a family, no one hesitates to visit a doctor to check things out, and the fees for X-rays and lab tests are ultra cheap compared to here, single payer insurance costs are simply based on one’s salary, there is a sense of equality in healthcare (you can choose your hospital) thanks to a universal single-payer health care system in place there. Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to share your personal story as many of us can surely empathize with your situation and have stories of our own to add in support of the truth you bring to light.

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  55. 55. sargar 11:31 am 02/18/2012

    This is a sad story and one repeated over and over again in America today. Sadly the story that is being promoted by the right and Fox is totally false. In Europe, everyone must be in the system. Costs are pegged to income but by everyone being in the pool, everything is cheaper. Nobody but the very serious sick ever go to an emergency room. There is no need. Everyone has access to doctors and the coverage needed. It is not a free ride. We pay a tax based on income but there is no such thing as someone going bankrupt due to medical bills. Obamacare (as Fox has coined) is a necessity for America to get a grip on the costs of healthcare and wrest some control of decision making from the insurance industry. Single payer would have been idea but that dog just won’t hunt in Amerika. Sad really because the propaganda that people get from Fox and others is simply not true. In the system we are under in France (the evil empire) we can get care anywhere and from anybody. Our chosen doctor is similar to the US a guide to others services but there is no board of review who decides your care. As an American expat living in France, I find very frustrating when telling people how it works here and hearing the Fox lies and exaggerations in response. It is truly sad when a great country will not care for its citizens.

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  56. 56. WizeHowl 6:33 am 02/20/2012

    As an Australian I find it unbelievable that a country like America could possibly have such horror stories, but unfortunately Kevin’s is not the first I have read, and not the first I have read here at Sci-Am. Our system is pretty bad as has already been outlined previously we have our problems and we like to complain about them, but whatever the problems, we can not complain about the cost, for no matter which state you are in, no matter what level of care you need it will not cost you anything, unless you want before the system is able to deliver it to you.

    That is our biggest problem here, the time factor not matter how good the medical staff are the system is our biggest problem, and that is where our state and federal governments have screwed us. It can take anything up to 18 months to get an operation for a non urgent matter.

    Then you have the problem of the government protecting the doctors from neglect when they stuff up during an operation, trust me, I know, captain Bligh here in Queensland has protected surgeons since we had Dr Death a few years ago, so that when one screws up you can no longer sue them for damages.

    But in general most of the doctors, nurses and ancillary staff are terrific here and unlike you yanks we can not complain about the cost, unless you are in the tax bracket the latest government has deemed high enough that you must pay for your own insurance, then you can complain about the cost of your over priced insurance and the cost of the gap.

    When Obama was out here he discussed our Medicare system and our minister went over there with it and your government was supposed to be looking at it as one possible system to be introduced in the near future, I don’t know anything about your politics, I don’t even know who is Democrat and who Republican, I can guess from the comment on here that Republicans are not very well liked at least by the thinking intelligent people. But something needs to be done as soon as possible.

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  57. 57. ChucksSA 10:39 am 02/21/2012

    Hopefully, there will be fewer of these kinds of stories after thr ACA kicks-in in 2014. You should be able to find affordable health plans even if you’re lower income with expanded Medicaid or the subsidies provided up to 60% of a health plan’s premium.

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  58. 58. bilahn 12:48 pm 02/21/2012

    Oh no! We can’t provide this man and his little boy insurance, it would destory the Republicans’ “freedom”. They will just have to suffer and die so the Republicans can have “choice”.

    It’s not freedom for the uninsured!

    “hate” is not a good emotion to feel, but more and more I am starting to hate Republicans.

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  59. 59. fsanchez 6:23 pm 02/21/2012

    I feel sorry for your son. Sorry you decided to gamble with his life. Not just when you decided not to buy insurance, but also when you decided not to take him to the Dr and pay the bill. When you decided to leave your PhD program. When you decided to have kids when you were only making PhD money. Choices (and you’ve made plenty) have consequences in life, and it’s not up to society to shield you from them. Yes, the hospital should (and is) treat your son, and you should pay them every penny however long it takes. You don’t have some moral right to the labor of others, no matter what you think.

    Marine Biology? What did you THINK you were going to do with that degree?

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  60. 60. drskyskull 1:21 pm 02/22/2012

    “Marine Biology? What did you THINK you were going to do with that degree?”

    Oh, I don’t know, maybe he thought he would do: marine biology?

    fsanchez, what on Earth is wrong with you?

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  61. 61. akm013 1:52 pm 02/22/2012

    Why in the world does our access to health insurance have to be tied to our employers? Not only does it leave out the self-employed and unemployed, but it puts an unfair burden on small business. Ironically this serves only to stifle innovation in this country so known for great discoveries. No one in their right mind would say that it’s right or just to be forced to weigh the health and safety of their child against the desire to pursue a career that provides a positive contribution to society.

    And as for all the people out there who claim moral superiority for their “work ethic” or “sacrifices in the name of their children”, remember, you are one pink slip away from Mr. Zelnio’s situation. Frankly, not one single person in America is immune to that!

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  62. 62. kclancy 2:11 pm 02/22/2012

    fsanchez, I’m at a loss for words. What is wrong with seeking a marine biology degree and what position do you hold that you feel like you can denigrate Kevin’s decisions in this way? Further, you do realize that many wonderful plans go down the tubes due to unforeseen circumstances? Or are you the owner of a crystal ball? If so, enlighten us. I’d love to know if I’m going to have a second child, or if I’ll get tenure.

    fsanchez, I feel sorry for you. I feel sorry that you are uninformed and heartless. I feel sorry for the people you know, since you likely impress your uninformed and heartless opinions on them as well.

    tl;dr version: Take a hike, dude.

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  63. 63. Jennifer Ouellette 2:23 pm 02/22/2012

    Apparently fsanchez has only ever made the most right, responsible choices in his/her entire life. S/he has never, ever, needed help from anyone, and every decision has always worked out just the way s/he planned it. I’m guessing s/he has never made use of any government-sponsored programs because, you know, that would just be leaning on the backs of hard-working taxpayers — so, no public libraries, public schools, student loans, highways and roads, national parks, public transport. The people who use those things are just sponging off self-righteous a-holes like fsanchez.

    My wish for fsanchez is that, god forbid, s/he should ever be in a similar situation, s/he will meet with far more compassion than s/he is currently showing for a fellow human being. That is not the antithesis to self-reliance. Rather, self-reliance goes hand in hand with being part of a bigger community.

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  64. 64. abrashtx 2:24 pm 02/22/2012

    fsanchez, you DO realize that Scientific American is, you know, a SCIENCE magazine? Maybe it shouldn’t surprise you that its contributors have chosen to study science. I can only assume you registered only to make cruel, uninformed snipes at Kevin. Bah.

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  65. 65. jbyoder 2:26 pm 02/22/2012

    What kclancy said. By the logic of fsanchez, the only people who should reproduce are those of us with such iron-clad income security that we could weather any healthcare crisis. Which eliminates anyone except, maybe, Mitt Romney?

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  66. 66. fsanchez 2:33 pm 02/22/2012

    I am heartless because I think one should provide health insurance for one’s children before planning a trip to Sweden? Because I think chosing a major where fully 80% of the graduates end up working in an unrelated feild is unrealistic? A field that is not highly paid, by the way, and very oversaturated.

    If you want to know if you are going to have a second child, ask yourself if you 1) want a second child and 2) can reasonably expecty to be able to afford one (ie not dropping out of school). You don’t need a crystal ball to know if you are going to have a child or not, all you need to know is how to use a condom or not.

    I’m glad there are people in this world who choose personal fulfillment over money. But people who make that choice should not expect those of us making more practical ones to foot their bills. “I am currently refusing to pay them” (his prior medical bills) tells us all we need to know about the author. He utilizes the goods and services of others-people who are also trying to make ends meet and raise kids-and he then refuses to pay. He’s an a-hole of the 9th degree and there are far too many people like him-esp commenting here. I wasn’t aware not paying one’s bills was a requirement to be a scientist-huh. Guess I better cancel my subscription.

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  67. 67. kclancy 3:04 pm 02/22/2012

    fsanchez, thanks for making assumptions about the fertility and sexuality of me and my husband. He is infertile due to cancer treatment.

    Kevin and his family are going to Sweden because that’s where his wife is from.

    After your recent comment, I feel even more sorry for you. That you would feel so cheated over what you think are practical choices on your part implies a lack of imagination and a real chip on your shoulder. Neither are particularly good attributes for a scientist, so I hope your “practical” decisions led you elsewhere.

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  68. 68. akm013 3:15 pm 02/22/2012

    Hey fsanchez, a requirement for being a good scientist is attention to detail. If you’d actually read the article above you would have understood that the $4,000 saved in travel money referred to a previous health incident 10 years ago which was clearly paid for.

    Furthermore, again if you’d actually read the article, clearly Mr. Zelnio does not dispute the requirement to pay a reasonable fee for his children’s vaccinations. Instead he is disputing whether or not being billed $2,000 for routine vaccinations is actually reasonable.

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  69. 69. Spike555 8:10 pm 02/22/2012

    The effective rate of condoms is, wait for it…around 85%.
    Birth control pill’s, about 95% effective.
    So fsanchez, what you are saying is that married couple’s should either not have sex or have a abortion if they do become pregnant by accident.
    But since you are (I’m going out on a limb here) a “right” wing conservative you are opposed to abortion, correct?
    So a accidental pregnancy happens, then what?
    Do you use the services that your tax dollars have helped pay for, do you give your child up for adoption or do you move your family under a bridge?

    Link to this

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