Volume 22, Number 4

Give Us Healthcare Or Give Us Death

Fred Schepartz

The American healthcare system is barbaric. Period. End of story.

I’ve written often about this. I’ve spoken about this. We believe this to be true. The American healthcare system is barbaric. And that’s a fact.

But now it’s personal.

This fall Seth Rubenstein, my first cousin, the eldest child of my mother’s older brother, suffered a massive stroke, then died a few days later. He was only 60 years old.

Seth did not have health insurance. Mere days before the stroke, Seth complained about headaches, but what could he do? He didn’t have health insurance. He didn’t have the money to go see a doctor, nor had he engaged in any kind of routine health maintenance program.

I’m not sure if Seth was ever covered by any kind of health insurance policy. For most of his adult life, Seth did not work at a full-time, permanent job. Like many workers in this contemporary economy, Seth was a contractor, working for companies who preferred to “outsource” rather than take responsibility for the people they hire to do the work essential to their success.

Benefits? Getting paid. Vacation time? That’s the time between contracts. Healthcare? Don’t get sick, but if you do get sick, die quickly.

And besides, how could Seth work? For the past couple years, he was working full-time caring for his ailing father, Herb, who was slowly dying from respiratory ailments.

In fact, the day Seth died was the day Herb was supposed to be released from the nursing home where he was receiving intensive treatment. Seth had worked hard to allow Herb to return home. He had been trained on how to monitor the ventilator that allowed Herb to breathe. He assembled a team of home health workers and made sure they received the proper training. The team was ready to provide Herb with round-the-clock care so Herb could spend his last days at home.

Except Seth died the day Herb was supposed to leave the nursing home. Herb never was able to return home.

There was a great deal of urgency to bring Herb home because the Medicare coverage that paid for Herb’s stay in the nursing home had run out. Herb exhausted his Medicare coverage. How is that even possible?

Herb was forced to pay out-of-pocket to remain in the nursing home, and suddenly he had no choice but watch helplessly as his hard-earned savings dwindled.

Herb was the son of immigrants. Bubby and Zeyda didn’t have much, but somehow Herb managed to go to college, eventually earning a doctorate. He taught linguistics at Lehigh for quite a number of years. He didn’t make a ton of money, but saved and invested well—at least, well enough to retire comfortably and provide for his children after his death.

Until he got sick. Until he ran head first into the harsh realities of the American healthcare system.

This is what should have happened:

Herb should’ve received the care he needed until he was ready to go home. Sufficient home health care should’ve been available for him to use for as long as necessary. The burden of Herb’s healthcare should not have fallen so squarely on Seth’s shoulders. Herb should’ve died peacefully at home. Seth should’ve outlived his father, and Seth should’ve been able to live in health and comfort thanks to the modest inheritance he should’ve received.

Instead, Seth is dead before his time. That never should’ve happened. And that’s a fact.

Herb’s heart stopped last week. He was transferred to a hospital where he died a few days later. Herb was 90 years old. It was probably his time to go. By all accounts he died peacefully, at least from a physical point of view. Mentally is another story. Herb went to the grave knowing his son was dead. Herb went to the grave blaming himself for his son’s death.

That never should’ve happened. And that’s a fact.

I cannot say it enough. Our healthcare system is barbaric. And why? Why does our healthcare system have to be so barbaric? Why did Seth have to die in a way that leaves us all scratching our heads? Why did Herb have to die with a broken heart?

Thanks to the Occupy Wall Street movement, we have a new language. It’s the language of class warfare, but let’s be clear. It’s not the class warfare we are waging. It’s the class warfare that is being waged against us. We are the 99 percent ducking and covering from the attacks of the one percent who want to take more and more from us while we have less and less.

Seth was a member of the 99 percent, and now he’s dead. Herb was a member of the 99 percent, and now he’s dead, and he died with a heavy heart. All because the one percent has to maximize profits, maximize profits, maximize profits, maximize profits, maximize profits.

Maximize profits into infinity.

But the 99 percent is waking up to the reality of what the one percent is doing to us. It began in Madison, Wisconsin as tens of thousands of citizens hit the streets to fight the attack on human rights by Governor Scott Walker. This continues with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

A day of reckoning is coming. And that’s a fact.