“Let’s treat our patients, not trick them with private insurance”


Jack-o'-lanterns carved from pumpkins and lit with tea lights
Photo courtesy of William Warby.

This op-ed was originally published on Common Dreams on September 18, 2016. This version includes a section on how single payer healthcare can help end LGBT health disparities. You can read the original article here.

“This Halloween, medical students are refusing to endorse the horrifying system as it exists. We will don our white coats and witches hats, publicly and politically demanding the ability to #TreatNotTrick.”

A few days ago, I was studying a medical diagram in a coffee shop when a man in his mid-forties walked in. His face was red, he was sweating, he looked upset.

“Please, can anyone help me?” he asked. “My daughter is at Children’s Hospital for seizures and she needs medicine. My credit card is maxed out. I need $16.50.”

A few weeks ago, I was listening to a friend describe a Pennsylvania Insurance Department hearing on proposed rate hikes for marketplace health insurance premiums.

“One insurance company representative actually asked the department to consider the health of the company,” he said. After this hearing, all six insurance firms received rate increases, often more than the rate increases they had requested.

A few months ago, I was standing in the operating room. The attending surgeon was instructing the resident about how to deal with a patient who had insurance difficulties.

“Well, the patient is going to say, ‘My insurance says they won’t pay for it,'” he said. “You say, ‘That’s not my problem. I gave you my advice.'”

Before you dismiss the coffee shop encounter as a panhandler pestering customers, consider that we live in a country where some medications have unaffordable copays, that many people go without needed medicines, and that people often have to make a choice between seeing the doctor and paying their utility bill.

Before you dismiss the big premium increases by pointing to Obamacare’s subsidies, consider that we live in a country where insurance firms helped write the Affordable Care Act, that millions of people remain uninsured despite the ACA, and that copays and deductibles are sharply rising.

Incidentally, the “health of the company” is not the kind of health I give a damn about.

Before you dismiss the attending surgeon’s callous attitude as difficult reality in a changing practice environment, consider that our current inefficient health care system harms patients, that doctors spend hours of their time demanding necessary tests and procedures from health insurance corporations that deny medical care because it threatens their bottom line, and that burnout contributes to hundreds of physician suicides each year.

This picture is horrifying. So horrifying that medical students like me believe that this Halloween is the perfect time to once again focus attention on our fractured health care system.

Our message: Private health insurance is a trick. We just want to treat our patients.

Our demand: An improved, expanded, “Medicare for all” national health program. It’s the only way to provide affordable, quality care for everyone.

Students for a National Health Program (SNaHP) is sponsoring the Second Annual Medicare-for-All National Student Day of Action on October 31, dubbed #TreatNotTrick. More than a few of us will be wearing Halloween costumes.

The actions are co-sponsored by the American Medical Student Association, the Latino Medical Student Association, White Coats for Black Lives, and many regional and local groups.

In Boston, students will host a public demonstration and call-in asking Rep. Mike Capuano to sign on to the single-payer bill, H.R. 676. In Ohio, medical students will visit Sen. Sherrod Brown and ask him to sponsor a Senate single-payer bill. In Philadelphia, students will rally and memorialize the lives lost to uninsurance and underinsurance with a candlelight vigil.

From California to Minnesota to Tennessee, no less than 33 medical schools are hosting campus events, rallies, lobby visits and demanding attention for improved, expanded Medicare for All right before the November elections.

This Halloween, medical students are refusing to endorse the horrifying system as it exists. We will don our white coats and witches hats, publicly and politically demanding the ability to #TreatNotTrick. Join us.