By Benjamin Day, Director of Organizing, Healthcare-NOW! –
The Boston area, where I live and grew up, has been feeling smaller and smaller since the Marathon bombings and unprecedented manhunt for those responsible. When the names of victims were gradually released to the public, I was astonished by how many I knew or were known by friends. Krystle Campbell, who lost her life in the bombing, was an acquaintance of mine and a coworker of my closest friends a number of years ago. It took an unthinkable act of violence to realize how closely knit our community already was – rarely more than one or two relationships removed from one another – and we had just never needed to rely on the full extent of our community for support until now.
I was struck that our community’s first concern was about the ability of those injured to afford their long-term health care costs. Even among the 282 injured who have health insurance, many will face unaffordable costs since what is seen as quality coverage in the United States typically imposes strict limits on physical therapy, mental health visits, and contributions towards things like prosthetic limbs or modifications to homes necessary to accommodate new disabilities. A “One Fund Boston” set up by the City and State has raised over $10 million in its first week to help pay for these costs. Friends of the victims’ families have set up their own online fundraising drives in the hopes that they will be able to receive comprehensive treatment. A “Bucks for Bauman” fund established to help Jeff Bauman, who lost both of his legs in the blast, has raised over $600,000 in response to the Fund’s plea that “Medical bills are going to start rolling in, let’s get a head start on helping out Bauman and his family! Every dollar counts!!” Similar funds for Brittany Loring; Nicole and Michael Gross; Celeste and Sydney Corcoran; Patrick Downes and Jess Kensky; Ann and Eric Whalley; William, Mary Jo, and Kevin White; and others who were severely injured, have raised millions from small donors across the country.
It’s an inspiring moment of community togetherness for me, but also bittersweet, since we are the only country in the developed world where victims of a terrorist attack have to appeal for charity to receive needed medical care. Every other developed nation provides universal health care for residents as a human right, so that in times of tragedy, accident, or severe illness, patients and their families can focus on recovery without having to worry about medical costs bankrupting them.
In my job I get to see many, similar, moving acts of community support – fundraiser events and online appeals to help patients pay for cancer treatment, or accident recovery. I also unfortunately get to hear about the cases where patients lack access to broad charitable communities, and face medical debt and collections agencies alone. I recall receiving a $5,000 hospital bill myself in 2005 after a three-day inpatient stay, at a time when I was earning $16,000 a year. The day I stepped out of the hospital, facing a difficult recovery, I could barely spare time for my health as the anxiety of having to declare bankruptcy – or to ask my friends and extended family to empty their savings accounts to help me – was all I could think about.
These moments bring out the best in our communities, and the worst in our inhumane health care system. I hope that in addition to rising in support of these victims of an atrocious crime, we also rise to swiftly establish a public, universal health plan that will protect the victims and patients of the future, so that no one has to suffer the quieter, more isolated tragedy of losing their entire savings, sometimes their homes, and eventually their access to desperately needed care.