I was 13-years-old and on a family vacation to Disney World when I first realized that access to health care was a privilege and not a right. That when disaster strikes, when you’re the most vulnerable you’ve ever been, when your life could be at stake, you could be turned away.
I fell ill near the end of the trip, and on the drive back home, I began to feel worse. A shooting pain seared through my abdomen every few minutes. My parents immediately stopped at the closest urgent facility care after seeing my fever spike to 102.5. At this urgent care, we sat down, answered some questions, and were told to wait and someone would come and get us in a moment.
Sitting in pain, surrounded by my siblings and parents, I noticed another family had walked in. A mother with her son. Her son had similar symptoms to me, stomach cramps and a fever. The receptionist began to ask the mother the same questions she’d asked us. However, when she asked about health care for the visit, the mother paused. Her breath became shallow and her hands started to tremble. She held her son close and said in a low voice, “We don’t have any.” The receptionist said back very clearly, “I’m sorry but we can’t help you. You will have to take your son to the ER.”
The receptionist’s eyes fell back down to her computer screen, avoiding the mother’s gaze. The mother picked up her son whose eyes were closing from exhaustion. She slowly rose, walking out the automatic doors at the front of the building.
Just then, a man opened the wooden office door and called out my name.
The health care system in America is a popular, politicized argument. But why? Regardless of political affiliation, it’s undeniable that the U.S. health care system is extremely flawed. The U.S. spends trillions of dollars on health care, yet has the worst health among developed nations. America is ranked 37th in the health care system and 34th in life expectancy at birth. Where is all the money going? Physicians are the largest occupation among the top 1 percent of incomes, allowing American doctors to make almost twice what a doctor in a similarly wealthy country makes. Most money that America spends on health care is directed towards owners and executives of pharmaceutical companies, medical-device manufacturers, insurers, and monopolistic hospitals. And while I recognize the system in place is far more complex than I can understand, I do know that what I saw in the urgent care that day was wrong.
Things must change. America is strikingly inadequate when it comes to health care. The money is there, but it is being used for the promotion of a few rather than the wellbeing of many. And as I think back to the boy and his mother walking out those urgent care doors, I fear the fundamental problem behind a lack of health care is a lack of care.
Tea Jones is an Orange County Schools high school student.