By Farooq A. Kperogi
It needs to be pointed out, however, that relying on emergency departments for the delivery of babies can be dangerous. This is because American emergency rooms, especially in big cities, can be remarkably busy. I have no statistics or even anecdotal evidence of Nigerian pregnant women who have died waiting in line for their turns in emergency rooms, but a 2007 survey in New York found that several Emergency Room patients have died due to excessive wait for hospital beds.
Emergency Rooms, once the last resort for most people, have now become the first resort for many, especially those without health insurance coverage. An earlier state-by-state survey of average wait times at Emergency Departments, conducted in 2006 by Press Ganey Associates, and USA Today, found that the average wait time for Emergency Room patients is 3.7 hours. The lowest wait time is 2.3 hours, and that is in the rural state of Iowa, while the highest is 5 hours, and that is in the arid state of Arizona. For a woman in labor, that’s an incredibly long time to wait.
The second option for people who can’t afford the cost of the wait time in Emergency Rooms is—or used to be—free clinics. Yes, there are clinics here that not only treat people for free but that give free drugs to poor, uninsured people irrespective of their nationality. According to the McClatchy Newspapers, America’s third largest newspaper company, there are currently more than 1,200 free clinics across America, most of which are owned by religious and charity organizations.
Two of the best known—Mission of Mercy traveling clinic and Muslim Community Center Medical Clinic—are run by Christian and Muslim organizations. They are typically the first and preferred recourse for the millions of uninsured Americans who want to avoid the exorbitant charges of emergency departments. Of course, as should be obvious from reading my previous accounts, regular hospitals are not even an option for uninsured people: they don’t treat people who have no health insurance.
Sadly, free clinics are now under tremendous strain. The economic downturn has drastically reduced the amount of contributions they receive from donors. And since they are entirely dependent on the goodwill of philanthropic individuals to survive, they are now increasingly demanding health insurance from patients. Besides, they are now even more overcrowded than the emergency departments of hospitals. That can’t be cheering news for Nigerian (and other Third World) women who come here to have “anchor babies.”
The executive director of the National Association of Free Clinics, Nicole D. Lamoureux, told the McClatchy Newspapers recently that over the past year, free clinics across the country have seen a 20 percent decline in donations and a 40 percent to 50 percent increase in patients. “Last year, the clinics the association represents — which largely have been excluded from the health care debate — treated 4 million people,” the paper said.
These are some of the core issues in the healthcare debate here. Obama wants every American citizen to have health insurance—with some assistance from the federal government. The big pharmaceutical and insurance companies who profit from the current state of affairs want none of that. To defeat Obama’s plan, the (Republican) representatives of big pharmaceutical and insurance companies in the U.S. Congress have stigmatized Obama’s healthcare proposal as “socialized medicine.” And, in America, the only word that evokes more visceral emotions than “socialism” (and all its inflections) is “terrorism.”
That’s why even poor white people who will be best served by Obama’s healthcare plan are up in arms against their own self-interest. For wanting to extend health insurance coverage to nearly 50 million helpless and vulnerable Americans, Obama is tagged a “Nazi,” a “Muslim Marxist,” a “Communist” and so many other devil terms that have profound cultural resonance here. Indeed ignorance and stupidity are blind to geography and level of development. You wouldn’t ordinarily expect this sort of crass asininity in a developed country like America.
My friend and former classmate in Nigeria sent me an email the other day asking to know if I would be safe from Obama’s “controversial healthcare reforms.” He had been monitoring the healthcare debate in the American media from Nigeria and all he sees, he said, are people protesting Obama’s proposed health care reforms. The substance of the reform is never discussed in the media. So he concluded that Obama must be proposing something really terrible for America.
It was his email and the discussion we subsequently had over it—and of course my own recent, first-time personal experience with American healthcare— that prompted my reflections these past few weeks. I hope the reader has learned a thing or two.