Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments (1)

The Plight Of The Uninsured

This is depressing:

A 24-year-old Cincinnati father died from a tooth infection this week because he couldn’t afford his medication, offering a sobering reminder of the importance of oral health and the number of people without access to dental or health care.

According to NBC affiliate WLWT, Kyle Willis’ wisdom tooth started hurting two weeks ago. When dentists told him it needed to be pulled, he decided to forgo the procedure, because he was unemployed and had no health insurance.

When his face started swelling and his head began to ache, Willis went to the emergency room, where he received prescriptions for antibiotics and pain medications. Willis couldn’t afford both, so he chose the pain medications.

The tooth infection spread, causing his brain to swell. He died Tuesday.

It can’t be denied that his poor decision-making was the proximate cause of this guy’s death (and many times I’ve gotten the maddening call from the pharmacy, “Doctor, the patient only wants the narcotics”). The underlying cause, however, was the fact that he was uninsured. Sure, he should have sprung the $4 to buy the penicillin at the big box pharmacy (though clindamycin can be costly, if he was penn-allergic). But he shouldn’t have been in the position to need it in the first place. He should have been able to get the tooth pulled — or better yet, filled before it needed pulling — before it became abscessed.

Sadly, this problem won’t go away when the ACA goes into effect in 2014 (assuming it does). I’m going to speculate here, but if this guy was so poor that the antibiotics were too expensive, he probably will (would’ve been) covered by medicaid under the ACA, which means that though his prescription probably would be paid for by medicaid, he still would not have had meaningful access to dental care, because most dentists won’t see welfare patients.

But hey, at least we don’t live in some sort of socialist dystopia where sometimes people have to wait for hip replacements!  Our Galtian paradise may be a bit rough, but it’s got to be to keep the moochers from running over us.


It sucks that we are the only industrialized country not to have some sort of national insurance plan, it sucks that even the modest reform passed doesn’t take effect for three years, if it ever does, and it sucks that people still die as a consequence of being uninsured.

Don’t let the wingers tell you that there’s no human cost to our crappy patchwork health care system. The children of Kyle Willis can tell you otherwise.

*This blog post was originally published at Movin' Meat*

You may also like these posts

    None Found

Read comments »

One Response to “The Plight Of The Uninsured”

  1. Carl says:

    It is silly to turn this into an issue about health insurance. If he can’t afford $4 for pills, what’s next? Can’t afford the bus fare or gasoline for his car? How does he even eat?

    If someone can’t pay $4 for drugs, the problem is their lack of money not the price. General welfare for such cases makes mores sense than trying to make individual services free.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »

Commented - Most Popular Articles