As another hurricane has hit Texas causing flooding and loss of life, I think it is important to look at how we, as a society, treat the less fortunate. Texas declined the medicaid expansion of the Affordable Care Act, and so its citizens are chronically at risk. This morning I read a review by Danielle Ofri, MD, of the book, "No Apparent Distress," by Rachel Pearson, MD (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/25/books/review/rachel-pearson-no-apparent-distress.html?_r=1). In it, Dr. Pearson's stories about those who fall through the cracks are described.
I have spent most of my career working in "safety net" hospitals. Yet, even here, there are requirements for copayment. In the case of scheduled surgeries, copayment may be required in advance. Sometimes, this may be more than $2000. Clearly, a fee this high might cause a patient to question if they should wait. And many do. Sometimes, the disease will progress, and be more costly to treat. But, this usually affects primarily the patient and their family. And, often the taxpayer.
Medical diseases like diabetes and hypertension can also be far more costly if treatment is delayed. A common medication for hypertension costs less than $10 per month, yet a hypertensive brain hemorrhage may require a week in ICU at over $2000/day, followed by weeks of rehabilitation, and perhaps never returning to the pre-hemorrhage level of functioning. And, at the time of the hemorrhage, care is mandated by EMTALA (the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act). So, again, we must all bear the increased costs of delaying care. While this is an unfunded mandate, doctors and hospitals must either recoup the costs or decide to go out of business, so they don't need to provide the care. But, closing Emergency Rooms affects anyone who needs one. So, this may affect all of us.
Infectious diseases pose even more of a threat to all of society. When I was a medical student, many of the homeless had been exposed to a non-toxin producing variant of diphtheria. Thus, if the typical toxin producing variant developed in the area, they and those who had received the DPT vaccine (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DPT_vaccine) would be best protected. Since a booster is recommended every 10 years, many healthy adults would be unprotected simply because they didn't keep up with revaccination. But, this is just theoretical.
About 20 year ago, I took care of a toddler who had tuberculous meningitis. He was neurologically devastated by it. His infection was traced to a daycare provider with a chronic cough. This worker couldn't afford to take time off to spend at least half a day at a public clinic to have the cough checked out, so continued to work with children, who are the most likely to be devastated by tuberculosis. And, yet, how many of us pay for childcare? And, do we always check on the workers? Since these workers often are low paid, many are immigrants.
Cysticercosis is another disease that may spread from the less fortunate. It is a pork tapeworm often encountered in third world countries. But, humans can have both gut and tissue, such as brain or eye, involvement. The gut involvement is caused by eating infected meat. The tissue involvement is caused by eating infected feces. Yet, pay for both agricultural workers and food service workers is low, so many are immigrants. In the field, workers may have no toilet facilities or bathroom breaks. Food service workers may also not have optimal hygiene. Health education is scant for such occupations with low pay and frequent turnover. Testing and treatment is rare. So, such workers may not only have tissue involvement, but, also gut involvement. So, all of us are at risk. In 1992, several Orthodox Jews were reported to have cysticercosis (http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199209033271004#t=article).
We do not exist as islands. We interact with other people. We may eat meals prepared by others. Our children may be cared for by others. The most affluent may be able to have their domestic help tested and treated for various infectious diseases. Less affluent people likely can't insist on this. But, most of us, at least occasionally, eat food grown and prepared by others. So, if the least fortunate can't afford care, the more fortunate may also suffer. It is not only ethical for a society to help the less fortunate; it is also beneficial for the more fortunate.