Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) dominated news coverage last week for his almost-filibuster against the Affordable Care Act. Personally, I have never held strong opinions on the ACA, but catching the recent flu that has been gripping campus has shed new light on how profound an effect simple clinical health care can have on our lives.
As college students, we are part of the key demographic that is targeted by the ACA. We are young, healthy and active members of our society, so we often overlook our need for regular preventative or general practitioner health care. I believe that I speak for many young and healthy Americans when I say that I rarely think about what I would do if I ever got seriously sick.
In the past, many people in this young adult demographic went to the emergency room to look for even the most basic health care. But again, this poses two critical problems. First, emergency rooms are notoriously expensive. Some charge as much as $600 for just a basic visit. But this outrageous price is clearly meant to address the second concern: that our ERs are chronically overcrowded. A visit to the emergency room can take hours, and ER doctors’ time is a valuable commodity that should be spent where it is truly needed.
This is where clinics come into play.
The everyday health concerns of students are the domain of clinicians, not emergency room doctors. For young, healthy Georgetown students who are in need of a strep test, a prescription refill or even a doctor’s note for class, it is obvious that the emergency room is the last place we should be waiting. But as a viable alternative to Georgetown’s student health needs, the Student Health Center’s overall support for students could be charitably described as lukewarm at best.
To start, while the Student Health Center offers an array of valuable services, the center’s hours are not designed in the best interest of Georgetown students. It is a well-known fact that students have overcrowded schedules and often prioritize class over attention to health. With this knowledge, the currently minimal and restrictive hours of the health center are counterproductive. For students to take advantage of these services, the health center needs to offer its most basic services around the clock — or at least in a more flexible timeframe than the business hours under which the center currently operates. And while the hours of the health center are obviously constricted by budget, student health is an investment worth finding dollars for.
I will provide an example from this past weekend to support this claim: On Saturday during peak flu season, the Student Health Center at Georgetown University was open for a grand total of three hours, from 9 a.m. to noon. For the other 21 hours — when students at Georgetown urgently needed a health center to administer tests and provide medications or physician consultations to its ailing students — the clinic was shuttered. Furthermore, during the week, when students need quick, simple healthcare from a clinician, yet cannot make it to the Student Health Center’s restrictive 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. hours, the receptionist at the front desk simply responds: “The emergency room is across the street.” While I am grateful to have even such a limited health clinic on the campus of my university, it is no mystery to me why the center’s existing services are underutilized. A health clinic whose mission is to work in the service of Georgetown students ought to better accommodate their needs and schedules in order to maximize its effectiveness.
Even from my limited experience, I’m aware that health care provision is made so difficult because human sickness is never announced, never predictable and inevitable. For the moments when things go horribly wrong, we have emergency rooms. But for basic sickness and general care, we should have full use of clinics like the Student Health Center, whose mission it should be to keep students from unnecessarily ending up in the ER. I still know little about the complexities of the ACA, but I’m sure that if our health center were more accommodating to the busy lives and complicated priorities of college undergraduates, our entire community would be well served.
David Chardack is a sophomore in the College. He is copy chief of The Hoya.