Ever since elementary school, I have dreamed of becoming a doctor – I wanted to cure illness and make people feel better. My dream job was specifically to be a pediatrician, because I thought getting to talk with kids and to work with their parents would be fun and really cool, and I would be helping them. Now as a high school student thinking practically about my college and future career goals, I wonder whether I will be able to realize this dream.
As we all know, higher education is expensive, and after 8 years of college and medical school, in addition to another 4-8 years of minimal-wage training, I, like most new doctors, would face large amounts of debt. In fact, the average four-year college education costs around 30,000 dollars, according to the College Board. The Association of American Medical Colleges states that medical school, depending on the institution, costs an additional 100,000 to 200,000 dollars. According to the American Medical Association, the average educational debt of graduating medical students in 2009 was 156,000 dollars, with over 79 percent of graduates having outstanding loans of more than 100,000 dollars. Furthermore, interest on these loans accumulates during the period of three to eight years after medical school when a physician trains. Unfortunately for many aspiring doctors, especially those from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds, the enormous cost of medical school deters them and their families from pursuing this dream. Many parents who live paycheck to paycheck, and or have several children, cannot afford to take out necessary loans because they would have difficulty paying off the debt.
Another negative result of this situation is that many graduating medical students feel forced to be surgeons (a high-paying specialty), as opposed to primary-care physicians (relatively lower paying specialty, such as pediatrics). Personally, my parents are first-generation immigrants, and came here because they wanted me to be free to chase my dreams and be successful without the economic challenges and other restraints that they have faced. However since they cannot provide me with financial assistance, will I still be able to attend medical school? If I do, would I be able to choose my dream specialty and become a pediatrician given the amount of debt I would owe?
It is also currently becoming harder and harder for pediatricians and family doctors to pay off their educational loans because of the pressures from bureaucratic insurance companies. These companies negotiate contracts with doctors and hospitals, paying them a certain percentage of what patients pay. The rest, a very significant amount, unfortunately goes towards funding the insurance industry. Additionally, the appeal of becoming a doctor is diminishing because there are now more and more rules and administrative procedures that force doctors to take time away from patients and spend it working on paperwork. According to a study by the American College of Physicians, the average primary care doctor spends 3.5 hours doing paperwork, while their support staff spend an additional 7.2 hours on this type of documentation. Consequently, doctors in the United States have less time to spend with patients- an average of only 30 minutes per year – which is one third of the time doctors spend with patients in Australia. Many experts feel that the majority of the paperwork is unnecessary, and if it were to be streamlined, the money saved by each primary care doctor in terms of human resources each would be enough to provide three families with health coverage, and the time saved would allow each doctor to see up to five more patients, alleviating the shortage of primary-care doctors.
We, the people, are on the other end of the health care debate. As one of the most developed and seemingly prosperous nations in the world, many of us are in disadvantaged and insecure positions in terms of our health. Based on the latest statistics by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 10 children cannot regularly see a doctor because they do not have insurance. My friend enjoys many luxuries, but he is also a gifted athlete and would like nothing more than to be able to join the school volleyball team. Unfortunately he can not, because without health insurance not only would his mother have to pay a doctor directly for an athletic-eligibility physical, but without insurance, what would happen if he become injured from an accident while playing the sport? Medical bills could quickly accumulate to the point of being unmanageable, a disaster for his family. Thus another carefree teen unjustly loses his chance to have fun.
At my dentist’s office, a middle-aged lady sits quietly, a perplexed look beyond her years pasted upon her face. We began talking, and she said that her family had no health insurance, but her daughter needed a root canal. She had to empty nearly all her savings in order to pay to save her teenage daughter’s tooth. In many other developed countries, that lady and her family would definitely have health coverage from the state, which would have been able to take care of her daughter without the lady’s stress, worry, and unfortunate financial situation. This, in my opinion is the greatest flaw of the United States government. Healthcare, the right to life and living as stated in the Declaration of Independence, should not be controlled by private, profit-seeking insurance companies. Like in a business deal, more people involved in the process means that less money will get from the consumer to the service provider. Healthcare should be between an individual and his or her doctor; it is unethical for a business to try and reap profits, especially from people who cannot afford to pay more.
Right now I am fortunate enough to have sufficient healthcare, and to be able to play on sports teams and go on school trips with relative peace of mind. However what if my parents lose their jobs? Since we, like many families in the United States, have an employer healthcare plan, if my parents could not work we would no longer have health insurance. When my father injured his leg a few years ago he needed surgery, which amounted to a large sum that our insurance plan fortunately covered. However what if that had happened and we didn’t have healthcare? Like typical working people, my parents did not have tens of thousands saved in the bank to spare. We would have become bankrupted and deeply indebted to a company that wanted to make profits off of our health.
Currently, many experts summarize our healthcare system as a tangled web of bureaucratic regulations with cracks that money slips through and loopholes that allow insurance companies to reap large profits at the expense of health providers and the under insured. As teens growing up in a changing world, this important issue is one that might be left for us to resolve someday. We face many ethics questions, such as- what is the purpose of the insurance industry, and is it really necessary? Isn’t everyone entitled to the same quality of medical treatment? Why should some teens get to play sports while others can’t, just because their parents can’t afford to pay a profit seeking company for insurance? As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, every human being deserves life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The United States healthcare system needs change, because everyone deserves the right to a healthy life.