Just a warning, for those readers who are bored of hearing about desperately sick Americans who could be successfully treated with surgery but can’t get the surgery done because they don’t have health insurance, and so are probably going to die:
John is a sawmill worker from Yamhill County, Ore., where I grew up. He was a foreman at a mill, he felt strong and healthy, and he had very basic insurance coverage through his job. On April 18, he was married, at age 23, and life was looking up.
Ten days after the wedding, he was walking in his backyard carrying a neighbor’s dog — and he suddenly blacked out. That led, after rounds of CAT scans, M.R.I.’s and other tests, to the discovery that the left parietal lobe of his brain has a cavernous hemangioma. That’s an abnormal growth of blood vessels, and in John’s case it is chronically leaking blood into his brain.
John began to have trouble walking and would sometimes collapse. He developed spasms and restless leg syndrome, he began to use a cane, and his mind suffered.
Perhaps the worst is the pain — blinding, incapacitating headaches that have left him able to sleep only in short intervals. He vomits daily when the pain surges.
“The pain is constant,” John said. “It’s a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10, and then it hits the high peaks and makes me vomit.”
John says the principal obstacle to treatment appears to be simply his lack of insurance. In August, he qualified for an Oregon Medicaid program, but he hasn’t been able to find a doctor who will accept him as a patient for surgery, apparently because the reimbursements are so low. Doctors tell him that his condition is operable — but that they can’t accept him without conventional insurance. He is increasingly frustrated as he watches his family crushed by the burden of his illness.