Contrary to popular misconception, most doctors don’t become doctors to get rich. If you have the intelligence, drive and focus to become a doctor, there are much easier ways to get rich. Doctors become doctors because they genuinely want to help people, and then they get thrown into the psychological meat grinder of the American health care system. 

One of the factors that led to my dad’s death from cancer at age 59 was a misdiagnosis of fibromyalgia. For months, he assumed that’s what his pains were, rather than a recurrence of melanoma growing inside his body. By the time the tumors were discovered, it was too late for treatment to work. And he died.

Did you know that there’s a statistically significant jump in cancer diagnoses at age 65 in America? That’s the age that most American adults become eligible to go on Medicare (you know, the evil scary socialist government health insurance) and, as such, can finally afford to go to the doctor and get the recommended tests and screenings done. More than maybe any other illness, early detection and treatment of cancer saves lives. It also saves money; it’s a lot cheaper to treat a Stage 1 tumor than a Stage 3 one. Money, however, can be replaced. People can’t. 

My dad’s late cancer diagnosis wasn’t because of a lack of insurance (we actually had good insurance at the time). It was because of an honest mistake, an error in judgment. But it just makes me even angrier that other girls have to watch their dads die unnecessarily for something as banal and stupid as money because we, as a country, haven’t managed to decide that providing health care shouldn’t be an entirely for-profit enterprise.

It wasn’t my fancy liberal arts college education that radicalized me into wanting universal health care and/or insurance for all of us (something that dozens of other countries on earth have managed to figure out). It was watching the stiff little bounce my dad’s body made as he was transferred from the hospice bed to the funeral home’s stretcher. There is a yawning black hole inside me that screams at injustice and greed. I used to fill it up with wine. Now I don’t. The hole has only gotten bigger; if I could swallow up every health insurance executive and make them feel the grief of the families who died as a direct result of their profitable financial choices, I would. I would trap them in the pain with me. 

There are lots of businesses we have outlawed because our lawmakers have decided they are immoral. Prostitution is the big one. Gambling, although in some places, that prohibition is relaxing more and more. Dogfighting. The sales of certain drugs. Cocaine, immoral. Alcohol, moral and available at your local gas station. Marijuana, morality varies by jurisdiction. So why have we, as a culture, decided it’s moral to profit off the act of denying payment for health care?


That’s how for-profit insurance companies make those big bucks, by denying payment for claims. And those claims aren’t just numbers on an investor’s spreadsheet. They translate to real people with real bodies. Bodies with lurking tumors, in too many cases. Actual tests and treatments. Treatments that are often time-sensitive. There’s a word for those people who make money off the suffering of others, and it rhymes with “weevil.” 

I’m actually not surprised that the Maine Medical Association joined the medical associations of four other states to call for a system of universal health care coverage. Dirigo, right? Well, Dirigo after state medical associations in Hawaii, Vermont, New Hampshire and Washington. But fifth out of 50 is pretty dang forward-thinking!

The statement didn’t surprise me because I’ve been working with Maine doctors for a few years now. I’ve seen them behind the scenes. I mean, maybe it surprised me that they had enough time to attend these meetings to put it all together. All of them are overworked and underpaid for the amount of work they do. If they weren’t on the edge of burnout before the COVID-19 pandemic started, they are now toasted to a crisp. And they still show up every day. They still are constantly squeezing in one more patient, making one more phone call. I’d bet literally all of my savings (calm down, it’s four figures) that each and every provider in the Maine Medical Association would gladly take a pay cut if it meant all of their patients could afford their prescriptions and tests and procedures. 

The Maine Medical Association’s verbose statement says, among other things: “We are calling for federal health care reform that provides universal coverage through either an adequately funded single-payer system or a combination of private and public financing where the federal government has, at minimum, regulatory powers over health care delivery to protect consumers and providers from private profit-driven motives.”

Translation: We’ll go with any system as long as it works. Personally, I think Medicare for All is the best way for America to transition to a system of single-payer health insurance. The infrastructure is already there, we’d just have to build it out to cover everyone. But honestly? I’m flexible. As long as everyone’s in, nobody is left out and we don’t see any more deaths of delay, I’m happy.  

Victoria Hugo-Vidal is a Maine millennial. She can be contacted at:
Twitter: @mainemillennial

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