It’s not exactly news, but it still manages to shock me if I spend more than a second reading the headline. Uninsured people self-diagnose, stretch prescription meds or medical appliances beyond their intended usage to save money, go without treatment when possible, or seek medical treatment and end up with thousands of dollars in bills they can’t really afford to pay. Setting aside the social-justice issue, how is this not a recipe for disaster, epidemiologically speaking?
Internet diagnoses, self-medicating and trading prescriptions, of course, come with potentially dangerous side effects. Dr. Barbie Gatton, who has worked in emergency rooms throughout the city since 2002, said she often sees young people who have taken the wrong antibiotics borrowed from friends.
“We see people with urinary tract infections taking meds better suited for ear infections or pneumonia — the problem is, they haven’t really treated their illness, and they’re breeding resistance,” she explained. “Or they take pain medicine that masks the symptoms. And this allows the underlying problem to get worse and worse.”
Maybe the epidemiological angle hits me a little harder because I just finished reading a book on yellow fever. Living in the age of MRSA as we do, I don’t think I’m being too Chicken Little here, particularly when we’re talking about basic health care that everyone, regardless of whether they buy insurance outright or share insurance costs with their employer, should have.
There’s some solid basic info in the article, but I have two quibbles. One, it identifies young adults’ (“invincibles”) risk tolerance as a reason for their avoidance of health insurance costs. Which, frankly, is a load of bull. Sure, young ‘uns are more likely to go flying down a tree-lined hill on a snowboard than older folks, but I’d lay money on the fact that older folks become more averse to that kind of thing because it’s not as much fun to do so with bodies that aren’t as reliable and resilient as they used to be, not because they can identify and tolerate risk of injury any more. I’m only 30, and still, all I can see is muscle soreness I’d rather not have in that scenario. I’m pretty sure I’d have tried it at 20.
Also, I’d lay money on the fact that risk tolerance is intimately, nay, inextricably tied to necessity. I went without insurance for a while after college, and I don’t feel any different now than I did then about the possibility of catastrophic illness or injury. We still cross our fingers that we’ll be able to afford whatever medical emergency comes up, and our insurance is pretty solid as insurance goes. If my tolerance for risk is unaffected by whether we have insurance, that doesn’t tell us anything about the invincibility of youth, it tells us something about the dysfunction of health insurance systems.
The article mentions a plan floated by Gov. Patterson to allow parents to cover children on their insurance up to the age of 29. Which seems sensible enough a band-aid to a massive gaping wound…wait, no it doesn’t. How ridiculous is it that health insurance and housing difficulties, people, health care and housing forces the prolonging of adolescence to such a ridiculous extent that you can’t ever give your parents a freakin’ break, even if you wanted to?
Tying health insurance to employment was a bad idea to begin with. Foisting the costs of health insurance for working adults onto their supposed-to-be-retiring-parents-who-can’t-retire-anyway-in-this-economy is a bad idea. But when the most common-sensical of common-sense provisions get shot down by free market idiots who’d rather see you succumb to either antibiotic-resistant infection or the crushing weight of medical debt than have government medical agencies set guidelines as to which medications work best for what illness, I guess these are minor matters.