By Francesca Riccio-Ackerman
I started interacting with the people I had dreamed for so long of helping. In the quiet moments at the research lab, as the patients and their families filled out consent forms, they presented me with questions — not only about the prosthetic arms, but about living a life that requires a prosthetic arm. “Can we take this one home? How much will it cost?” “What do I do if my insurance doesn’t cover arms anymore? How am I supposed to keep a job?”
Initially, I didn’t know the answers. Then I did. But I didn’t know how to tell patients the truth: The American medical system makes no real accommodations for the vast majority of amputees. Prosthetic arms and legs, unless they are truly rudimentary, typically cost more than $60,000. They require replacement parts every year that can cost thousands more, and only a small fraction of the cost of limbs and spare parts is covered by insurance.