Health and Cost-savings through Class Privilege and Contacts

Recently our family had an experience of cheaper and easier health care, because of the people that we know and our current financial status.

My 19-year-old son was diagnosed with an eye condition, kerataconus, that was causing his eyesight to degrade. His eye doctor recommended that he get surgery – but the surgery wasn’t FDA-approved, thus wasn’t covered by my Blue Cross health insurance.

This was the first way class privilege changed this story: that we were able to afford a multi-thousand dollar operation that wasn’t covered by insurance. It would take a chunk of our savings, but we could afford it. I researched how to get it done mostly cheaply and conveniently, acutely aware of the fact that many people with this disease but less wealth would simply face impending blindness or severe sight challenges because of the steep cost of the surgery – or take out a large loan.

I compared the costs of having the surgery done in Montreal, where it was a legal procedure, versus having it done in Boston within a clinical trial that was going on in 2014, ending on December 31st. After many hours of calls, e-mails, reading, and cost comparisons, I calculated that we would save about $2500 by having it done in Montreal, in spite of the added travel costs and hassle. I booked his surgery for mid-January, 2015; booked three nights in a Montreal hotel; and put in a request to take three days off of my job.

Then, in mid-December, my partner and I were at a neighborhood holiday party, and found ourselves chatting with a friend and neighbor who did health research at Mass General Hospital for a living. When he heard about the kerataconus surgery, he told us that his office neighbor at MGH worked on that disease, and offered to put us in touch with her.

Long story short: within a few days, I received a long e-mail string between my neighbor, his office mate at MGH, and the surgeon leading the clinical trial on the kerataconus surgery. The surgeon was offering to conduct the operation on our son for the Montreal price – over $1,000 cheaper per eye than what they had quoted me earlier in the fall. The reason they stated was “because you are a friend of our co-worker.”

So I booked the surgery for December 31 in Boston, and canceled the surgery and the hotel room in Montreal. It went without a hitch, and we enjoyed a much cheaper procedure and greater convenience for the surgery and all the follow-up appointments.

We are happy and grateful to have benefited from this connection with our neighbor and his colleague, but know that it happened because of the connections we have, and the wealth that we already enjoy. If we had lived in a poor neighborhood, the chances of making such a connection would have been much lower, or maybe non-existent. It was one of the starkest examples of benefiting from social capital that I’ve ever experienced.

I’m now inspired to “pay it forward” — to work against our biased “healthcare system” (= profit-making system not actually focused on the public’s health!) by donating to Healthcare for All; by working to get more resources into low-income communities; and by educating people about class bias — which I try to do through my work with YouthBuild programs across the country.

One’s health, and one’s eyesight, shouldn’t have to hinge on social connections, status, or wealth. Health should be a right, not a privilege.

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