The land of the free and uninsured?

During my freshman year of high school I was given two choices by my orthodontist: remove two of my teeth or wear head gear for two years. Logically, I chose the first option. After all, I didn't want to be known as "Metal Mouth" or "Scary Jaw" or "Whoa! That girl is ugly" for half of my high school career.

A few weeks after the surgery, I was looking through our mail when I noticed the bill from my surgeon's office. (One of my parents had left it out accidentally.) I glanced at the paper for a moment before my eyes widened: my surgery cost a whopping $800! And that was after our insurance company had paid its portion of the check. At first I was completely bewildered by the cost but then I quickly forgot about it because I was a kid and my parents would take care of everything. The world of HMO's and health insurance was something that grown-ups had to deal with.

But then adulthood set in really fast. About a year ago I faced a crisis when my full-time job at the Smithsonian became a part-time one. In the blink of an eye I was booted from my health insurance because the museum didn't provide benefits for part-time employees. So I became a little frantic. Sure, I was a healthy 23 year-old woman who didn't smoke or drink, but there could always be a chance that I would be in a serious car accident or contract some terrible disease. In the end, I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to pay for my medical insurance because I was living rent-free at my parent's house. And so, every month I sent a $175 check to Kaiser Permanente. A high price to pay? Of course. But what was my alternative?

Not all Americans are as lucky as I was. 50 million people in our country are uninsured. That's one out of six Americans---most of whom are too poor to afford it. Even more frightening, those of us who have insurance aren't completely saved from costly hospital bills and treatments.
In Michael Moore's film "Sicko," he follows the lives of numerous Americans who have suffered at the hands of their insurance companies: the 60 year-old grandmother who was forced to sell her home to pay her medical bills, the young mother whose daughter died in a hospital that refused to accept her insurance, and the wife who lost her husband to kidney cancer because their HMO denied him the surgery he needed. The film is heartbreaking to watch, yet extremely telling of the health crisis we face today in the United States.

Perhaps some hope looms in our future though. All three main contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination have laid out universal health plans to make sure every American has access to medical insurance. In a recent ad, John Edwards even claimed that he would halt health insurance to Congressmen if they failed to set a health care bill in motion by a certain date. Whether or not his plan comes to fruition is a gamble, but at least some candidates are taking this issue seriously.

Why do I believe in government-sponsored health care? Because I already am a part of this system and---surprise, surprise---it works. As a military spouse, I enjoy free health benefits through the Army. One of the few perks about the military is that I don't have to worry about high medical bills or even higher deductibles. Of course, the Army health care system is far from perfect: I have braved long lines at the pharmacy and waited weeks for an appointment. But to be honest, it isn't much different than what I faced with my private health insurance. And for the record, no Army doctor has misdiagnosed me with genital warts as my gynecologist did at Kaiser Permanente. (Go back to medical school, you bitch!)

Yet in three years when Justin finishes his contract with the Army, we will once again be on the hunt for adequate health insurance. For a few months we may even be uninsured as we search for new jobs in a new city, the joining the ranks of the fifty million Americans who don't have any health care. So here's to John Edwards, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton for president. While the creation of universal health care may only be a dream, at least these three are willing to give it a chance.