“How I Like to Risk My Life Every Day” or “Living Without Health Care in New York”

When I was living in Germany, I was fully covered in a state-sponsored health care system and could see practically any doctor I wanted at any time I needed for any cause that concerned me. I don’t think Germany is among the top 10 health care providers on Earth, but its 28th place surely was more than satisfying to me.

I heard horror stories of health care in the US before I got to New York, of course. Untreated patients who were declined a visit because they could not wave their magic card or show a significant bundle of money to the hospital receptionist. “Heck,” I thought, “I am so young, what could possibly happen to me other than a few minor injuries? After all, once you get a job, you should receive health care benefits, right?!”

The job search did not go so well in the first six months I was here. So obtaining benefits through a waitressing job was not really an option. And, contrary to my naïve beliefs, I was sick three times during this six month period: One day I severely cut my foot open when I slipped on a sharp escalator step. I should have been submitted to a hospital directly to prevent infections and to patch the wound together, but instead I called my roommate and limped home, trying to hide my tears as good as possible, and using house hold cures to prevent further infections. I think this was the first time I realised that it really is not that cool to have no other option other than to endure your pain and make it through to the end, hoping nothing more significant will affect your health.

But how easily said in the city that nourishes one bacteria after another. A summer flu and another ailment later I finally entered the “real” working world of New York, just to be thrown to the ground again. The job (I still have now) proved to be a dead end – one of these cases where they only hire you hourly to begin with and then keep you there because you are a cheaper option to them than a full time worker would be and they are too stingy to advance you career- wise. At least that is how I like to see things. No matter what their reason is, it does not change the fact that I remain uninsured in the health care world (not to mention that I am not working towards a pension plan/ rent/ all those other factors that might become important in 50 years from now). After 8 months of New Yorkness I was in dire need of some check-up visits and searched around to see what my options were. A coworker mentioned Medicaid and I looked into this government-issued program. The cut-off rate was $900/month, meaning you would have to be making this amount or less to qualify for the great government health program. I think I wouldn’t even have qualified for it if I had stuck to tending tables. Needless to say that I certainly did not fit the category on an hourly pay, this being crappy by itself.

Somehow I managed to pull up a site to a clinic that was advertised free of cost. Sounds too good to be true in New York, I thought, and I was partially right. The NYC Free clinic does indeed offer free health care service but only for two visits during your entire life. It is connected to the NYU Langone Medical Center. I took my chances (as I was still in the hopeful mindset of finding a new job and thus a benefit package) and scheduled an appointment with a case worker first. You have to do this before they accept you for a visit. A Latina called Roza took on my paychecks and calculated if I was eligible for their program. I was. Then I scheduled my first appointment on a Saturday, the only day of the week you can come in and have yourself checked on for the rate of $0.00. To my surprise I was not greeted by a professional doctor but by two intimidated-looking med students, who were attending NYU. That’s right, they didn’t even give me residents, but STUDENTS in their second and third year of med school. Now I never studied medicine, nor do I have the intent to do so. But I hate to believe that people are misdiagnosed because of seeing absolute greenhorns. At the end of this 2-hour-clown session and after a number of unnecessary questions were asked, a REAL DOCTOR entered the room, who had already been told about the case and practically disregarded every diagnosis made by the students but instead had her own opinion. Somehow I was just not convinced of this clinic and remained skeptic.

According to an article brought up in the New York Mag, I am not a single digit in the club of “Under 20 and uninsured.” And what struck me most is that 60 percent of these uninsured do so because of the high cost of health insurance. The author lists a few options on what can be done for check-ups and emergency situations. Supposedly state-founded hospitals will bill you according to your pay check and you will have a highly discounted rate when you use their ER. Every other hospital might not treat you or if they do, they could charge you a few thousand dollars. Which is very frightening for people like me, who don’t know where else to turn but who don’t want to stand in bad credit and have an endless amount of debt.

This topic concerns me all too recent because I was in dire need of a doctor in the past one and a half weeks. I first redeemed my second visit at the free clinic, this time being checked upon by second-year-students. Then I tried for other options and found a life saver: MedRite in Midtown East. It cost a flat fee of $140 a visit and included every testing that should be done (X-Raying, too). An M.D. (yes, a REAL doctor) examines you and tries to make you feel as comfortable as possible while tending his job. Blood samples that have to be sent to the lab will be discounted by 80 %. When I walked in, I received immediate care and a few numbers of other doctors I could go back to check up on. I hope I don’t have to use these addresses, as a visit to one of these would cost $200 straight here. But we will see. MedRite is a fairly recent phenomenon in New York, as it has opened up only one location six months ago. How very much surprising considering this city needs it more than any other town in the US.

To date, I find it quite astounding how President Obama has required every citizen to have one sort of health care or another but then fails to come up with an affordable means for normal people to get a hold of this golden opportunity. In Germany, no one would be left uninsured, not the poorest, not the people on the verge to poor and certainly not the middle-income class. I guess this is the fine difference between European politics and the Free Country. You are indeed very free: Free to choose if you want to ride yourself in debt because of a visit to an emergency room or free to endure your pain and sickness, hoping it will go away by itself.
Yes, health care in the US remains a problem. And of course it does not affect the rich and wealthy but gets to those who are down already. I sometimes wonder what I pay my taxes for in a country like this….