There is no better argument for universal health care than Evelyn.
The 65-year-old New Jersey woman, who has asked her doctors to be identified only by her first name, recently had a 51-pound tumor removed from her belly. That’s not a typo: The tumor was that big, that heavy, and was pressing down on her interior vena cava—a vessel carrying blood back to the heart. The pressure put her very life in danger, even before considering the fact that the tumor was malignant.
So how did the tumor get so big and dangerous without Evelyn getting it removed? No, she’s not clinically obese, or one of those inexplicably clueless people on reality TV shows who didn’t notice they were pregnant until they gave birth. Evelyn weighed only about 120 pounds before the tumors swelled her body and brought her weight to more than 170.
Evelyn waited a month because she had to wait until she turned 65 and was eligible for Medicare. Otherwise, she would not have had the insurance coverage to pay for the surgery.
Had Evelyn been much younger, what would have happened? She might have qualified for Medicaid, but the threshold for receiving Medicaid is awfully high. In some states, Medicaid is given to those making only a fraction of the poverty level, meaning that someone who waits tables for a living, 50 hours a week, would not be able to afford health insurance or surgery, but wouldn’t qualify for Medicaid. She might have simply gone to the emergency room and hoped for treatment there, leaving her with impossible bills—or, just as likely, an unpaid bill the hospital would be forced to pass onto other insured patients.
The only way to avoid such tragedies is to make sure everyone has coverage. There is legitimate disagreement about how to get there—national health insurance, mandatory health insurance, expanded eligibility for programs like Medicaid. But until and unless everyone is covered, there will be more people like Evelyn. And not all of them have the luxury of waiting for care until they turn 65.