One man’s descent into the American health care system

This is a stunning piece of visual journalism worthy of your attention today.

The New York Times followed a Kentucky man with a chronic illness from the months before the national health law went into effect.

David Elson, 59, couldn’t afford to go to the emergency room even as he struggled to breathe in a doctor’s office.

“We tried to stay away from numbers and jargon,” journalist Emma Cott told Point of View, which co-produced the documentary. “And insofar as we did mention the jargon, it was mostly people talking at Elson, and you experience the scene from his perspective and hear these things being thrown around.

“And if you don’t understand them, it’s OK because he doesn’t understand them either. We were really trying to get at the emotion and the real people that this is affecting and get away from the more newsy stuff, which we did more with the Remaking Medicine series.”

He suffered from heart failure, and then he started going blind because of his diabetes. It would cost $1,300 for laser treatment — money he didn’t have. He was also spending $600 a month on prescriptions.


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When the new law went into effect, he thought he’d be able to get help, but first he had to pick from 24 different plans. He selected one that cost $353 a month, but he couldn’t pay the premium, especially with the $2700 deductible.

“It’s just throwing money away,” he said.

He thought he was feeling better.

His kidneys started failing. And so was his heart.

“There comes a time when you have to take care of yourself,” his doctor said.

But he couldn’t afford to. First, he had to get much worse.

After dialysis started he was able to get on Medicare (he was eligible after being on dialysis for two months), but he still had to stop taking some of his medicine. One prescription alone was $156 a month.

By the end of the documentary, Elson, now 61, has no choice but to have daily dialysis at government expense. He’s not eligible for a kidney transplant.

This is his life now.

Related: Obamacare’s final test: if it survives the Supreme Court, it’s here to stay (Vox).