Column: What Health Care for All Really Looks Like

For the Valley News
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

This story begins 10 years ago when my husband and I received a call that our son had been in a car accident while visiting his aunt in Northumberland, England, over the Christmas holidays. He had been extracted from the car, flown by helicopter to Newcastle Hospital, and put in an induced coma in the intensive care unit.

After a nail-biting flight (where sympathetic British Airline personnel let me fly first-class), I arrived to find my son cheerful and glad to see me, though he had no idea why he was in the hospital. His head injury had caused the loss of his short-term memory. I asked the nurses and doctors to let me take him home to my sister’s home to recuperate. They wouldn’t let me, so I moved into the hospital to be with him.

He ended up staying in the hospital for 10 days. Helicopter transport, ICU, induced coma, private room, MRI. No one asked if I had insurance; no one asked me to pay one cent. (By the way, my son had a complete recovery, though he lost his insurance when he had to take a leave of absence from college for a semester. The second MRI was $5,000.)

Jump ahead 10 years. I returned to Northumberland in late March to be with my sister, who had just received a diagnosis of acute myeloid leukemia with a bleak prognosis. I went with her to the town of Hexham for her hospital visits. Hospice and the MacMillan nurses (extra care for cancer patients) came to the house to make arrangements for care; the village nurse and doctor came to the house numerous times to check on her, though she was completely mobile; a team of two nurses came to her home multiple times as her condition worsened; a pharmacist was called at his home on a Sunday and he delivered a medication a couple of hours later; and finally two nurses came that night to verify her death. And here’s the thing — no one asked for a penny.

Yes, my sister’s taxes were high, but as I walked around the ancient and picturesque town of Hexham, the streets were full of healthy, energetic, white-haired senior citizens. You see, people there don’t have to worry about health care. It’s true that for some non-emergency surgeries, there may be a longer wait than we’re used to. But, oh my gosh, imagine not having to worry about choosing between paying for your health care or paying for rent or food or car payments or child care or anything.

Now, please understand that I am not any kind of expert on health care, taxes or insurance. I’m a mom and a sister who unwittingly witnessed what a health care-for-all policy looks like. Both experiences were traumatic and emotional. Not having to worry about expenses left me with the time to give my full attention to my son and my sister.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve paid thousands of dollars over the years to insurance companies. I’d rather pay taxes.

Jennifer Yocom, of Thetford, recently retired after 20 years teaching music in the Thetford schools.