CommunityMy FDLSeminal

U.S. Vulnerable to Swine Flu Due to Lack of Universal Coverage

There is an excellent post on Dailykos today which covers how the media isn’t covering health care reform, but is instead hunting it for sport. Generally, it’s hard to to blame elite media figures–all of whom earn six and seven figure salaries–for not understanding that a $120 trip to the doctor can break a family’s budget. As the media continues to cover the new pandemic swine flu and raise alarm about its possible comeback in the Fall, they have completely failed to cover a crucially important fact: our lack of universal access to quality, affordable health care drastically hinders our nation’s efforts to control swine flu.

In order to be diagnosed with swine flu, one must see the doctor. General Practitioners treat the flu (among a myriad of other ailments). They are very good at their jobs, and they can properly treat a person with swine flu in order to ensure that the disease does as little harm as possible to them–and in order to ensure that the disease does not spread to others.

But General Practitioners can only do their jobs if people actually go to the doctor. Earlier this year a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that 1 in 4 Americans put off going to the doctor because of the cost of a visit. For media stars who make more in 15 minutes than the average American makes in a week, the $120 fee to see the doctor, or the $75 copay some "fortunate" Americans carry, might seem quite reasonable. But for average, working Americans visiting the doctor costs a day’s pay.

The stories of people who are unable to afford visiting the doctor are found at the community health fairs of this country–the once a year festivals where we give people something that should be given to them every single day: access to quality, affordable health care. An attendee of the Cleveland, Ohio health fair told the local Fox affiliate that she hadn’t been to the doctor in a decade:

"It’s been ten years since I’ve been to the doctor, " says Patricia Meacher, who works in the restaurant business, but has no health insurance. "It’s kind of scary when you think how long it’s been and what could possibly be."

If this woman, or the 47 million Americans who are just like her, come down with swine flu, they won’t go to the doctor. They won’t be diagnosed. They won’t stay home from work. And they will put themselves, and people they are around, in danger by unknowingly spreading the disease.

Even if we could find a way to ensure that all Americans who might have swine flu could be given access to health professionals who would diagnose them in quick, affordable, and effective manner, our system would still make providing effective treatment for uninsured swine flu patients extremely difficult. Swine flu is treated with Tamiflu, an expensive anti-viral medication. A 10-day supply of Tamiflu runs $81, again pocket change for media stars but a day’s wages for average Americans.

The high-cost of prescription medication is causing many Americans to not follow their doctor’s orders. One in six Americans are taking a smaller dose of medication than their doctor prescribes in an effort to lengthen the time between the filling of expensive prescriptions. The next logical step for people struggling to afford proper treatment of their ailments is to not fill their prescriptions; according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 27 percent of Americans have not filled a prescription due to the cost of medication over the past year.

Swine flu is but a symptom of the pandemic flaws of the American health care system. An uninsured American who is diagnosed with swine flu would be looking at forking over close to a week’s pay in order to obtain proper treatment. For people who live paycheck to paycheck, and are literally one illness away from bankruptcy, the prospect of losing their job, home, and health insurance is too scary. So they forgo treatment, even if it hurts themselves, and their fellow citizens. This lack of access to quality, affordable health care for the overwhelming majority of our population makes our country extremely vulnerable to pandemics like swine flu.