Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen so many examples of brutality played out in our cities — and mostly our most impoverished areas — that it isn’t difficult to see why so many people are in the streets. Many say white people cannot truly understand the deep racial issues that target African American people and their communities, and that is no doubt true. But that sort of thinking also keeps groups of people apart who might otherwise band together to exert powerful forces on the corruption that manifests itself in so many places in our society.
Since I advocate for transformation of our health care system, I see brutality — economic and physical — exerted on patients all the time. Yet patients often do not speak up or gather enough support to wage even a small protest. We’ve so ingrained the notion of personal financial responsibility in our market-based system, that patients and their families and friends often struggle alone to remedy their current health-related financial crisis rather than risk care denials, more illness and perhaps even death. Black skin or white, our health care system knows no divide aside from the ability to pay, and those who cannot demonstrate sufficient ability to pay are weeded out.
Just recently, I was hospitalized twice in a short period of time. I have insurance, but I do have co-pays and deductibles that must be considered before deciding to seek care. The first hospitalization was due to a life-threatening GI bleed. Just 36 hours after discharge from six days in the hospital, I was rushed back in with a life-threatening bloodstream MRSA infection. In both instances, while in the emergency room in desperate shape, hospital business office staff made their way into my patient care area with their rolling computers and asked me how I wanted to pay my $250 ER co-pay. It was a different sort of brutality, but it was brutal to be sure.