In the fifth episode of the seventh season of Voyager, there are few things like a science fiction show predicting the future. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
Trigger Warning: For extended talk of health care issues, ableism.
This was TOO REAL, y’all. For those of us who have grown up under the increasingly awful American health care system, we can see a real-world parallel within the Allocator’s nightmarish system. It might not be so literal all the time, but it’s familiar. We decide, as a society, as a collective, who deserves health care and who does not. Given that we live in an ableist world that devalues bodies that don’t operate in a way we designate as appropriate or worthy, it’s easy to see how you can graft this episode into my country and find it all to be eerily similar.
I grew up not going to the dentist. I am not exaggerating: my first trip to the dentist was in 2004. I was twenty. And I had to go because one of my wisdom teeth was coming in sideways, and I was in danger of an infection. But because I had the most bare bones insurance imaginable, my doctor refused anything aside from a local anesthetic. (Which is a separate issue in and of itself, and I’ve been itching to write an essay about racism within the medical field.) I had full-on surgery in my mouth, and while most of it was numbed, I still felt it. I was apparently not allowed to have anything worse, and the doctor flat-out refused to put me under. Why? Well, I had the wrong type of insurance. This was the “better” option. (Actually, I’ll be brief about this, but he also said that I had a high chance of becoming addicted to the drugs, so he refused them for that reason, too. ONE GUESS AS TO WHY HE SAID THIS.)
This exact pattern has played out over my life, and I’ve been privileged enough to have few physical injuries or problems over the years. (I did once get to watch an exploratory surgery on my leg; ask me about that story sometime because it’s RIDICULOUS.) But I am also like many Americans who have come up under such a barbaric system: I don’t go to the doctor unless I think I’m going to die. I don’t do preventative care. I can’t afford it, particularly not on much of the insurance I’ve had in the past. And if this doesn’t make sense to you, then let me explain this system a bit more, as it will clearly demonstrate how our healthcare industry mimics the world in “Critical Care” in a frightening way.
We don’t have TC levels, but we do have health care plans that influence what sort of care we get and what a person has access to. These plans have monthly premiums that you pay into the system, and then you have a set of costs associated with whichever level you have. My current plan is, shockingly, pretty decent. I’m paying nearly $270 a month to have health insurance, but for the first time in nearly five years, my office visits are only $20. Emergency? $100. $20/$30 generic prescription costs. These things are vital because it means I do not have to panic if I feel I need to visit the doctor or go to the emergency room. It’ll cost something, but it’s much easier to put $100 on a credit card than the full cost.
And that’s where you get this horrific parallel: prior to this, the last three plans I had that I could afford required me to pay full price on my doctor office visits and emergency room plans, at least until I reached my deductible limit. Which was close to $6,000, for the record. So that meant I had to pay $6,000 out-of-pocket before my insurance kicked in and started to cover things. SIX THOUSAND DOLLARS. That’s enough to put me in debt for years, so you better believe I allocated myself. And that’s what is so insidious and terrifying about this system: we make these decisions ourselves. We exclude ourselves from care we need because we don’t believe we can pay for it. The last time I went to the doctor was in 2014 to deal with a possible food allergy, which is how I learned I was allergic to soy and had to stop being vegan. I didn’t go when I got strep throat on tour in 2015. (Shout out to the nurse who brought me antibiotics on that tour, however; I got well like three days later after feeling like I was dying for ten days.) Or when I got bronchitis. Or any of the times I should have. Why would I when it would cost me so much money that it would throw my personal budget into crisis?
Now, there is an element to health care that’s much more similar to the whole TC level, but since I don’t have chronic illnesses or need repeated care, I don’t feel I should be the one to speak on that. I’ll say this: our healthcare system is designed to weed out people who are “weak” and “sick.” All the horror tales I’ve heard from people who have had to battle against ableism in hospitals and insurance companies… it’s horrifying. That’s one thing that “Critical Care” captures with eerie accuracy: the detachment that occurs when people judge human life based on numbers. Cost. Value to society. That element is barely a satire here, and the writers didn’t even really need to exaggerate reality much. That’s how it is! That’s how these companies make decisions! The value of human life is immaterial to the numbers on the page, and the value of human suffering is just as irrelevant, as long as these companies can still post a profit at the end of the quarter.
That’s why I don’t feel the slightest bit guilty or conflicted about what The Doctor does to Chellick. I understand why he feels that way, and I wouldn’t want that element removed from the story. Showing him as conflicted as he violates the Hippocratic oath is a vital part of his growth! He makes a human decision here to inflict Chellick with the same ailment that Tebbis had to demonstrate the savagery of his detached management style. He makes a difficult and violent decision that’s less about revenge and more about forced empathy. Chellick can’t understand why his actions are monstrous until he’s on the receiving end of them.
I say this knowing that the Republican members of my government are grasping tightly to their government health insurance while aiming to take it away from millions upon millions of people out of some misguided sense of duty and honor. Well, I’m sure plenty of them are just greedy, too, but that’s the reality we live in. People who do not understand why healthcare is a nightmare for many Americans refuse to empathize with the people who suffer the most. Maybe they need to spend a year on our healthcare before they’re allowed to vote on it or write new legislation. Just a suggestion, you know? And if its not clear, I believe that health care is a human right, not a privilege, and this whole disastrous system needs to be rebuilt from the top to the bottom. We should not have to choose between being healthy and living free from debt because of our bodies. That is an inhumane thing to ask of any society.
The video for “Critical Care” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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