The Emergency Room — luxury or necessity?: Nearly seven out of 10 USF students cannot afford a $400 emergency.

Graphic by Anya Jordan/SF Foghorn

As most college students living away from home can relate to, I hate being ill at school. Right at the beginning of this semester, I started having stomach pains. I ignored them, convinced I was overreacting. However, when I woke up three consecutive times in the same morning to throw up, my roommate told me it was time to go to the hospital.

After checking me in, the staff at the hospital immediately handed me the bill and my hand started to shake. The cost of the trip was nearly $800, and I simply cannot afford that kind of expense. My only saving grace was the co-pay of $200 which allowed me to finally calm down.

I cannot describe the panic that hit me when I was faced with that kind of bill with no means to pay it. I was fortunate that USF requires international students to pay for health insurance which eased my financial burden, but it shocked me that in a place where I am meant to heal, I had to immediately worry about how I was going to pay for it. My home of Sri Lanka, by contrast, has a universal healthcare system with free medical coverage for citizens.

My experience at the hospital isn’t unique. According to Fortune, 37% of Americans wouldn’t be able to pay for a $400 emergency expense on their own. A large portion of the population can’t afford a trip in an ambulance, an emergency car repair or rent if they suddenly lose their income. 

The problem worsens among college students. The Foghorn conducted a poll on Fizz, an anonymous college campus social media app, where users must have a “@dons.usfca.edu” email address to become a member. The Foghorn asked, “Can you afford a $400 emergency expense right now?” The poll received 1,922 votes, with a margin of error of +/-2%. In a near-inversion of the results for Americans as a whole, only 31% (594 votes) of respondents said “Yes.” By contrast, 69% (1328 votes) answered “No.”Though the results of this poll are significant, it is important to note the limitations. Undergraduate students, who are less likely to have a steady income, are overrepresented on Fizz, with freshmen and sophomores being the majority of active users.

Part of the problem is the rising cost of goods. According to Forbes, the consumer price index, which measures the change in prices of products, rose again this year. Things like food and shelter are getting more expensive, and eating away at people’s savings.

Rising prices are partially the fault of the Federal Reserve, which regulates the rate of inflation, and also of corporations, which are raking in record profits charging people more and more.

Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary, wrote in an article on Newsweek, “Inflation is not being propelled by an overheated economy. It’s being propelled… in large part by corporations raising their prices to fatten their profits.”

Inflation and corporate greed are making emergencies more costly. Emergencies will always pop up, but the price tag attached to these surprise costs are growing too large for Americans, and USF students, to bear.

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