I suppose I should finish this rambling blog that I started a couple of days ago.
I would like to also say, before I sit down to listen to the President’s State of the Union Address, that I hope I am not one of those people who everyone seems to think pinned all my hopes for the country on one man, one new President. That was never the case with me as I have been following politics for years and became a bit disillusioned with the whole lot of them (politicians) years ago. Looking back at the blog I wrote when President Obama was inaugurated, I said:
I don’t hold notions that the entire country, or world, can come together into a “beautiful symphony of brotherhood” as Dr. King put it. But I do believe that the the goodwill of the rest of the world is not something to spit on and we have a better chance of regaining that. I do believe that the security of this nation is a priority and I don’t think we will be losing ground on that. I do believe that many people in this country can work constructively towards a better future and I think many people are willing to put their best foot forward.
That was it and I still believe that. Although I used the dreaded word “Hope” to title that blog, it was not meant to say that all my hopes rested on one man.
And now on to the much less controversial topic of health care. Ha!
I figured it was time to get a little more personal….
When I was about to graduate from college, a friend of mine asked me a question for an article he was writing for the campus newspaper. It was the end of the school year, seniors were about to matriculate off of campus and into the wide world. I can’t remember for sure the specific topic of the article – I think it had to do with the things we were anxious about in regards to our graduation. The job market? Being on our own? Maybe it was an article on the things we were looking forward to after graduation. Independence? Being on our own?
I think I said something along the lines of: “I’m worried about health insurance.”
Along with being kicked out of the nest of the university, I was also about to be kicked out of the student health insurance I enjoyed during my undergraduate years. For the last 4.25 years, I had been able to see a doctor whenever I wanted, get prescriptions I needed, and not worry about what would happen to me if I was gravely injured. Well, you know – not worry about going bankrupt and all that. I would be worried, of course. It may seem like a strange thing to feel anxious about when leaving college. With all the world in front of me and no full-time job lined up, I was most worried about health insurance.
You see, I didn’t have that growing up. I’m willing to bet a lot of kids my age didn’t either. But really, I’m not sure. If their parents worked for a good-sized company, maybe they all did have health insurance. My parents didn’t and so, we didn’t.
I didn’t understand health insurance when I was a kid. I remember going to the dentist on a regular basis. I had to, what with the teeth extractions and the cavities and the braces and all. But going to the doctor? Not so much. I remember a shot when I was very little. Some sort of pain in my neck in 6th grade when I turned my head too fast. And……that was it. I don’t remember seeing a doctor between the age of – oh about 11 to age 19. Not that I really needed one. I was a fairly healthy kid.
Except, really I wasn’t. I got sick often. When I finally saw a doctor during my first year of college and he asked me all sorts of questions and listened to my lungs, he said “You have bronchitis” and gave me some antibiotics. “Really?” I thought to myself. Because I was experiencing the same symptoms and problems I’d had many times in the past. I just never thought to go to the doctor. Now again, I consider myself to be lucky because, even though it probably caused a world of stress for my parents, I got help when I needed it. They paid for my braces. They paid for my eye exams and glasses. I just don’t remember if insurance was ever part of our vocabulary back then.
But I do remember a lot of anxiety over the idea of needing to see a doctor. This had mostly to do with the fact that my dad had a couple of scary stints in the hospital when I was younger. The irony I came to learn later was that – I think Dad could have avoided the times in the ICU if he had sought medical help earlier with his doctor. When I was in college and he was in between insurance carriers, he didn’t go to see the doctor until the pain and damage was enough to cause him to pass out when he finally drove to the hospital. And then, he wasn’t covered by insurance and spent years paying off the hospital stay. Didn’t matter that he had just been covered. Or that, in a few more weeks he would be covered. He didn’t have an interim policy and therefore, he was screwed.
Over the years since college, I’ve watched and listened to friends who won’t go to see a doctor when they are not covered by insurance. I’ve seen friends fret over getting independent insurance when they fear that some benign old ailment will suddenly become the “preexisting condition” that results in denial of coverage.
People like to throw out terms like “death panels” when talking about the proposals for health care reform that have been winding their ways through Congress last year. As if the idea of someone dying because he or she is denied health care coverage under the new proposals is a completely novel idea. Really?? Where have you been? Oh sure, you say that anyone in this country can walk into an emergency room and get help. Sure. But they still have to pay for it if they are not covered. For some people, the choice of trying to manage their own pain versus paying thousands and thousands of dollars for emergency care is not a choice at all. Or, some people who seek treatments are flat out denied coverage by their existing insurance carriers and, believe me, there are not many things harder to do than make an appointment with a doctor, let alone a specialist, without health insurance. I tried to do it.
Years ago, I was dissatisfied with my existing doctor and wanted to meet a new potential primary care physician. I wanted to meet this doctor first before switching to her so I made an appointment. I went into the office to check in and gave them my insurance card.
But wait, I was told, Dr. A is not your PCP.
I know, I said. I want to meet her first before I assign her as my PCP.
But then your’re not covered by your insurance.
Well, that’s irritating but ok. Can you give me an estimate of how much it will cost to talk to her?
No? Excuse me? Can you just give me a ballpark figure of how much it would cost to walk through that door right there, sit down with the doctor for 10 minutes and walk out?
We cannot possibly cover all the possible things that may happen. We can’t give you an estimate. Why don’t you just call your insurance, change her to your PCP, make a new appointment and if you don’t like her, you can change your PCP again.
Now tell me, is that a WTF? moment or not? I’m standing about 20 feet away from the doctor I want to meet. But I have to pay money to open that door and meet her. And her staff cannot give me a price estimate. Cannot give me a price estimate.
WHO DOESN”T DO THAT???? WTF? You need your oil changed in your car? You call a garage and get a price estimate. You want to switch your cell phone carrier? You can call companies and get price estimates. You want to buy a new TV? You can shop around and look at price tags. Hell, if you want me to write you a Population, Employment and Housing section of an environmental impact report for a new development, the least I can do is give you my billing rate.
But ask how much it costs to see a doctor in this country????? Nooooooooo. We can’t do that. Who knows -you might slam the door shut on your finger, bump your head on the counter and suddenly – the doctor needs to perform brain surgery. Yeah. That’s right stupid little patient. Do what your insurance company tells you and it will all be better.
So, that was my attempt to get help without proper insurance coverage. I ended up walking out, switching my PCP and going back to meet her. Crazy how we can meet with anyone else in the world we want to hire beforehand but we can’t seem to cross that magic door to see a doctor without the proper paperwork.
After I graduated from college, I was lucky enough to picked up for a full-time position with the research group I had been working for as a student. Ever since then, I’ve either been working full time or covered by a COBRA policy. Or – now that I am working on my own, covered by my husband’s work insurance. There are still problems, especially if we want to move back to the mainland. But still – I’m one of the lucky ones.
I don’t believe in, nor want, an only-government-run health care plan in this country. I’ve said it before – it’s not feasible in the United States. I don’t think it would be efficient either. I’m not in favor of the government spending more money than they take in. But I do believe that reform is needed so that people who can pay for coverage and want coverage can get it. I think that, if we require drivers to have current auto insurance, we should require citizens to have current health insurance. I don’t say this because I am some sort of bleeding-heart who wants universal love and peace. I say this because covering costs for the uninsured ultimately raises costs for the rest of us. And I say this because I’ve seen the detrimental effects on my friends and family members of not having health insurance.
I suppose there is more I could write but I’m not really trying to convince anyone of anything with my babbling here. I’m just trying to give a little personal perspective. People expect stereotypes in politics. “Well, you are XYZ, so you must believe ABC.” Sometimes I follow a stereotype. Sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I believe in things because I research both sides and talk to people and learn as much as I can. Sometimes I believe in things because of personal experience. Sometimes, it’s a little bit of both.