The worst flu season in years has hit the U.S. hard this year and the lack of affordable universal health care in this country is making it the deadliest flu epidemic in nearly a decade.
While a particularly virulent strain of the H3N2 flu virus is responsible for more complications, hospitalizations and deaths, especially among children, seniors, and people with certain chronic illnesses, preventable deaths are being exacerbated by a lack of access to reasonably priced treatment.
Take the case of Heather Holland, a second-grade teacher at Ikard Elementary School in North Texas. Holland fell ill with the flu on a Tuesday and sought treatment, but delayed picking up her medication because her prescription had a $116 co-pay.
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With potentially life-saving drugs so close at hand, but out of financial reach, Holland may as well have skipped the doctor’s visit. Unlike every other major industrialized democracy, the U.S. does not offer universal health care for its citizens, leaving them prey to a free market dominated by greedy pharmaceutical companies who use every trick in the book to keep drug prices higher than in any other country in the world.
By Friday, Holland’s condition had deteriorated to the point where she needed to be admitted to the local hospital. By Sunday, Holland had succumbed to the illness and was dead, according to a report in the Houston Chronicle.
Some would blame Holland for making a serious mistake in deciding not to spend the money for the drugs she was prescribed, but absent knowledge of her financial situation, who can second guess a decision that may have been a choice between health or eviction or between health and having enough food to feed her family. Knowing how poorly teachers are paid in this country, that’s not an unlikely scenario.
The true villain in this story, besides the flu virus, is a health care system that allows stories like this to occur repeatedly, while pharmaceutical companies line the pockets of politicians to buy their votes in fighting off the kinds of reforms that would outlaw the practice of profiting enormously from the suffering of others.
Until a universal, Medicare-for-all-style health system is finally established in this country, get your flu shot now, if you can afford it, and don’t take the flu lightly if you do catch it.