In the debate over health care, here’s an inequity to ponder: Nikki White would have been far better off if only she had been a convicted bank robber.
Nikki White died at the age of 32. She had lupus, a chronic inflammatory disease that was untreated because she could not afford health insurance.
Nikki was a slim and athletic college graduate who had health insurance, had worked in health care and knew the system. But she had systemic lupus erythematosus, a chronic inflammatory disease that was diagnosed when she was 21 and gradually left her too sick to work. And once she lost her job, she lost her health insurance.
In any other rich country, Nikki probably would have been fine, notes T. R. Reid in his important and powerful new book, “The Healing of America.” Some 80 percent of lupus patients in the United States live a normal life span. Under a doctor’s care, lupus should be manageable. Indeed, if Nikki had been a felon, the problem could have been averted, because courts have ruled that prisoners are entitled to medical care.
As Mr. Reid recounts, Nikki tried everything to get medical care, but no insurance company would accept someone with her pre-existing condition. She spent months painfully writing letters to anyone she thought might be able to help. She fought tenaciously for her life.
Finally, Nikki collapsed at her home in Tennessee and was rushed to a hospital emergency room, which was then required to treat her without payment until her condition stabilized. Since money was no longer an issue, the hospital performed 25 emergency surgeries on Nikki, and she spent six months in critical care.
By then it was too late. In 2006, Nikki White died at age 32. “Nikki didn’t die from lupus,” her doctor, Amylyn Crawford, told Mr. Reid. “Nikki died from complications of the failing American health care system.”
“She fell through the cracks,” Nikki’s mother, Gail Deal, told me grimly. “When you bury a child, it’s the worst thing in the world. You never recover.”
We now have a chance to reform this cruel and capricious system. If we let that chance slip away, there will be another Nikki dying every half-hour.
That’s how often someone dies in America because of a lack of insurance, according to a study by a branch of the National Academy of Sciences. Over a year, that amounts to 18,000 American deaths.
Mr. and Mrs. Deal say they are speaking out because Nikki wouldn’t want anyone to endure what she did. “Nikki was a college-educated, middle-class woman, and if it could happen to her, it can happen to anyone,” Mr. Deal said. “This should not be happening in our country.”
Struggling to get out the words, Mrs. Deal added: “The loss of a child is the greatest hurt anyone will ever suffer. Because of the circumstances she endured with the health care system, I lost my daughter.”
Complex arguments are being batted around in this health care debate, but the central issue isn’t technical but moral. The first question is simply this: Do we wish to be the only rich nation in the world that lets a 32-year-old woman die because she can’t get health insurance? Is that really us?, according to The New York Times' reflections.
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