Numbers Game

Unchecked greed rises

stealthily overpowering, stealing dignity, stealing opportunity

until no one can outrun

the ever changing line of inequality

by Christina Lynn Lambert


Keeping people sick, just on the edge of debt, all while dangling the possibility of health and hope in front of the very people who can no longer reach those possibilities is beyond cruel. But in American healthcare, it’s just the way business is done. Patients are numbers in the American healthcare equation. Many nurses and doctors do care greatly about their patients but as far as pharmaceutical companies are concerned, their clients are nothing but dollar signs. To health insurance companies, we’re all numbers, inconvenient ants to be silenced with codes and denials. With each year, drug prices grow higher and insurance companies deny more and more services because CEOs want their bonuses, shareholders want their profits. Politicians placate these monsters in exchange for money and power.

Some patients can afford the exorbitant cost of healthcare in America. Some people can pay several hundred dollars a month for a prescription, year after year after year, but many can’t. But that’s the patient’s problem, right? Drug companies, hospitals, insurance companies must tell themselves something like that to justify the fact that people die without medicine and care, that people die because they’re afraid to go into debt for an emergency room trip because of chest pain. People tell themselves that lump they felt might be nothing at all because they can’t take the chance of a nasty hospital bill that eats away their financial stability. Waiting is the strategy of choice because anything else could result in financial ruin.

A billing clerk at the front desk of the dentist loudly proclaims to the patient, “You want your broken tooth fixed? Pay now or take your problem out the door.”

The ER cashier says to the patient, “you want stitches? We’ll send you the bill. You’ll get it in two weeks. Better be prepared to pay a couple grand or sew your finger back on yourself.”

And they all say “Pay us or we’ll take everything you have. Pay us or we’ll ruin your credit, maybe even send you to jail- but only if you’re too poor to defend yourself in court. Pay us or we’ll garnish your wages or repossess your car. Pay us or we’ll take your house and have the repossession company throw all your stuff into your front yard so you can come collect it with a garbage bag while your neighbors watch.” So patients everywhere in America must open up a vein and feed the health insurance industry because a nation of prosperity has somehow allowed an industry to become so greedy and so dysfunctional that the price of medicine and healthcare and health insurance can throw the average american into massive debt.

Life saving medical procedures, medicine to manage symptoms, possible cures, the possibility of a long healthy life- it’s all just out of reach for so many. People can buy health insurance, which isn’t cheap, but that doesn’t mean much when the cost of care is still so high.

Life is supposed to be sacred, so all important, but what about the quality of our lives? That questions gets pushed under the rug because the answer is inconvenient. Profit before people. Profit before decency. Profit before dignity. Now, people must choose between food and medicine, between mortgage payments and medical care, because CEOs need to deliver big money to shareholders. Top tier drug and health insurance employees need their bonuses. Making patients a number in the game of shareholder profit kills patients, but what do the drug companies and health insurance companies care? To them, the patients are just numbers. Not real. Not worthy. Expendable.

And I have to wonder, how long before the bar is raised and the cost is driven higher until unchecked greed become an insatiable beast, eating everything in its path until finally, the CEOs, politicians, and shareholders have nobody left to oppress and steal from but each other?