Letters to the Editor by PNHP Members
April 26, 2006
To the Editor:
Lori Rackl’s story on uninsured cancer patients (“Uninsured Survivors Pay With Their Lives,” 4/26/06) is yet another powerful indictment of our broken healthcare system and a reminder of the need for a Single-Payer healthcare system in Illinois.
As a family physician who has worked in Chicago’s inner city for close to ten years, I have, unfortunately, seen many examples where patient’s health has deteriorated due to their inability to access healthcare. As a resident on the West Side of Chicago working on the inpatient ward, I took care of a beautiful African-American woman named Evelyn who had no health insurance, but a mounting health concern. One year prior, she had visited a primary care doctor to inquire why an ulcer on her breast would not heal. By the time she had decided to scale the financial barrier of seeing this doctor, the ulcerating sore, which was pathologically shown to be infiltrating ductal carcinoma, had long before migrated from her breast and seeded itself in the soft tissue or her abdomen and neck. Evelyn had metastatic breast cancer. She died five days later, before our hospital was even able to print her bill.
At Cook County Hospital, where I refer all of my uninsured patients, the wait to get a diagnostic colonoscopy can be as long as 18 months. Invasive carcinoma of the colon does not wait 18 months to progress and kill our patients. Long waits for cancer care persist at public hospitals because our profit-driven healthcare system leaves sick patients behind. A Single-Payer system, by contrast, would allow these patients to receive care elsewhere, thus saving lives!
A Single-Payer system would give everyone in this country all necessary healthcare coverage for his or her entire life. In a system like this we would take care of the patients that Lori Rackl wrote about, but most importantly, we would show them the dignity they deserve.
Robert C. McKersie, MD
Author of In the Foothills of Medicine, A Young Doctor’s Journey from the Inner City of Chicago to the Mountains of Nepal.