Joe, Karen, Hector and Carlos are just four of the 47 million Americans who do not have health insurance. Their harrowing stories of battling critical illnesses without health insurance are portrayed in Roger Weisberg‘s film Critical Condition, which dramatizes how being uninsured can cost someone his job, health, home, savings and even his life.

Critical Condition airs on most PBS stations on Tuesday, September 30 at 9 PM. (Schedules vary, so check your local listings.) The entire film will stream on the POV website from October 1 to November 11, 2008.

“It’s your money or your life,” Carlos Benitez says during the film. Carlos is an uninsured chef at a French restarurant. He has had a severe back deformity that has caused him 15 years of unbearable pain and taken seven inches off his height. Unable to afford a surgical procedure or the time away from work, Carlos resigns himself to a life of pain.

Dr. Patrick Dowling is the Chief of the Department of Family Medicine at UCLA. After meeting Carlos at a local health fair, Dr. Dowling arranges for a private orthopedic hospital and a team of surgeons to waive their $300,000 fees for Carlos’s operation. Dr. Dowling is “very pleased that we could help this one individual out,” but laments that “we can’t do endless surgery on uninsured patients; it begs a national solution.”

Karen Dove’s deteriorating health forces her to quit her job as an apartment manager; she loses her health insurance as a result. She begins to have severe, recurring abdominal pains, but the doctors she contacts refuses to treat uninsured patients. A year later, after she finally finds a gynecologic oncologist willing to treat her, she is diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer, which is almost always fatal. Karen says, “It shouldn’t matter if you got a $20,000-a-year job, your life is just as important as somebody else’s that makes a lot of money.” Unfortunately, her story, as well as the stories of Joe, Hector and Carlos, make it clear that being uninsured in America when you’re sick makes life extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Have you ever been without health insurance? Were there any additional resources Joe, Hector, Carlos and Karen could have turned to? Why do you think the quality of health care in the U.S. is lagging, despite the fact that we spend more money on it than any other nation? What do you think the solution to the health care crisis is, and are either of the presidential candidates offering a legitimate solution? Share your thoughts about Critical Condition with us in the comments.

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Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.