October 2nd, 2009
01:21 PM ET

No easy answer for cardiac arrest survivor

By Caleb Hellerman
CNN Medical Senior Producer

Last week I traveled with Dr. Sanjay Gupta to Levittown, Pennsylvania, to meet Chris Brooks, a recent college grad who survived an unexplained cardiac arrest that stopped his heart for more than 15 minutes. That he survived – and without brain damage – is pretty incredible, and probably a tribute to the CPR performed by his father and the fact that he was cooled by emergency physicians at the local hospital, and at the University of Pennsylvania, where he was transferred afterwards.

What caught my attention the other day came when we asked Brooks whether doctors had figured out what caused the cardiac arrest in the first place. It’s a life-or-death question; Brooks now has a defibrillator implanted in his chest, and in the past six months it’s been triggered to shock him twice. In other words, his heart is stopping for no obvious reason.

But he hasn’t gone for a battery of tests that might provide an answer. The reason: no health insurance. He was covered by a family policy at the time of his cardiac arrest, but no more. “What we’re dealing now is insurance,” Brooks told us. “I’m 22 years old and not in college any more, so I don’t have insurance. I can’t see [my cardiologist] now. I want to, I guess, but I can’t.” His doctors are looking for a way to make it work, but in the best-case scenario it’s delaying those tests by two to three months - a reminder that even serious illness can slip through the cracks of the current health care system.

Health care bills moving through Congress might make life easier for Brooks; they would let people under 26 still be covered on their parents’ insurance. But the bills would also place a new burden on those 26 or older, by requiring them to purchase insurance or pay a penalty. Critics say people should be free to take the risk of going insurance-free, if they like – or if they can’t afford it.

Are you under 30 without health insurance? Do you have children in that boat? What would you do if there were a serious health crisis?

Programming note: See Chris Brooks’ story as part of Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s special, “Cheating Death,” October 17, 8 p.m.

soundoff (44 Responses)
  1. Katie B

    This young man's journey is the reason people should HAVE to have health insurance. No one THINKS they are going to get sick and need medical care until they do. At that point it is near impossible to get the necessary medical care without insurance, as illustrated by this anectdote.

    October 3, 2009 at 21:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Mark, NH

    Yes, I'm 27 and a recent PhD college grad. I have a 6-month supplemental insurance policy that is pretty much an ER-only care policy with a $5,000 deductible. Thankfully, I had no pre-existing conditions. Money is tight but I should have a job soon. There is definitely a gap in insurance coverage in the U.S. Young adults 20-30 yrs old are generally the healthiest age group, and we would be relatively inexpensive for HMO's to cover. I would like either a private or public health option. No U.S. citizen should have to suffer the stress or financial burden of not having any or adequate health insurance coverage when they want to be proactive, decent citizens who are caught in a medical limbo.

    October 4, 2009 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Stephanie

    I'm a recent college grad and thankfully Illinois has a law where young adults still be covered under their parent's insurance so I have coverage. Many of my friends are not as lucky. I recently went into the dermatologist where I was found to have a precancerous mole. It frightens me to think if I waited until I found a job that offered health insurance to get it checked out, the mole may have become cancerous. Young people are typically healthy but like the above poster commented, many young people don't think they need health insurance until they do.

    October 7, 2009 at 14:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Peter McGrath

    My 21 year old son had an emergency apendectomy without insurance two years ago. The total bill from the hospital and all the services was just over $25,000. When he told the hospital of his situation, they said they'd reduce their $18,000 portion to only $7,000 if he'd pay the amount the same day. I put it on my credit card. He finally paid the last of all his bills last month. It was a huge expense and burden for him but he did manage it.

    October 7, 2009 at 14:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. GClare

    Some of this boils down to differences across state lines. My niece is in her 20's . She was doing animal research under a grant (which also covered insurance). WHen the grant and project concluded, she was out and no insurance. However, her father's policy was able to pick her up on it. There were some caveats but she was still able to be covered - so part of the challenge may be the differences between insurance carriers in the states. I would at least suggest that insurance companies be allowed to cross state borders. As a start, that may alleviate at least some of the problems.

    October 7, 2009 at 15:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jason

    Im a 27 year old college grad who is without insurance. I had health insurance last year but with a $9500 in betwork deductible and an $18000 out of network deductible, it just wasn't feasible to pay for it. After having some urinary tract problems a little over a year ago, I had to have a surgery which was only offered out of network. The in network and out of network deductibles were both met and I was on the hook for nearly $30000 of the bills totaling about twice that. It was pitiful to think that even with health insurance I was bankrupt. After recovering physically I filed for bankruptcy and had these medical bills discharged. I guess thats why I am not a fan of mandating people to purchase.

    October 23, 2009 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Jamie

    Hi, I found this with a quick Google and thought I'd add my perspective.

    I am a 21 year old student from Australia, where we have a national Government health care system (which, for the most basic explanation – works), and I had almost the exact same thing as Chris Brooks.

    Last year, October 6 in fact – 4 days after it seems this article was written, I had a Cardiac Arrest. I was 20 years old.
    Paramedics didn't arrive until 5 minutes after the arrest, and I've been told they performed CPR for 35 minutes.
    I was then placed in a medically induced coma for 3 days.
    Now here I am, no brain damage (at least I think there's no brain damage 😉 ).
    It was absolutely the work of the paramedics that saved my life – and kept my brain functioning at full capacity.
    I have no idea how the system works in America, but is it truly like the movies? Do you really get no healthcare unless you have insurance? It just seems so foreign for me to contemplate when our government provides everything for free, including my $20,000 defibrilator, life-time medication and Cardiologist fees etc.

    It turned I have Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, which is (I think) a genetic arythmia disorder. (I'm not a med student, lol). But, since the condition is genetic – and other members of my family have it – the Australian Government is now also paying for our entire family to have their individual DNA sent for testing in the UK (under a "relatively" new method or something (so I've heard)) – and also hearing at great expense.

    Anyway, I really do desire to live in America one day, but stories like this scare the crap out of me. Cannot see a cardiologist without insurance? That is harsh. This is a US citizens health on the line – I would of thought then, that the US Government should be providing at least basic health care – after all, providing security (in all aspects) – is a governments primary function isn't it?

    February 9, 2010 at 06:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.