This story made headlines recently. An unemployed24-year old man without health insurance died after a tooth infection spread to his brain because he couldn’t afford treatment. His death could have been prevented if he’d gone to a dentist and had the preventative care he needed. But he didn’t have insurance so he ‘toughed it out’ until the pain became so bad that he was forced to go to the ER. The doctor gave him prescriptions for pain medicine and antibiotics. He could only afford to fill one prescription, and unfortunately chose the pain killer.
After my 90 day probationary period I can qualify for health insurance if I am working at least 30 hours a week. I haven’t had health insurance for over 2 years now. No health insurance, no health care. I haven’t been to the dentist in almost 3-years, haven’t had an annual physical, haven’t had my vision checked. This isn’t because I’m the very picture of health! I have a broken molar and I know my glasses prescription is out of date because I have to take them off to see anything close up. I test my blood pressure at those machines at the pharmacists – it’s moderately high, not as bad as it would be if I didn’t have my blood pressure medicine. A $40, 15- minute appointment with my doctor every 6 months or so buys me a refill of the medicine that costs $50 for a 3-month supply. I’m lucky that the medicines I take are generic and not overly expensive. If I wanted to fill my prescription for migraine relief it would be $109 for 6 pills. That’s a pain that I just tough out.
According to a recent piece in the New York Times, the Commonwealth Fund’s latest biennial health insurance survey found that nine million working-age adults who lost their jobs between 2008 and 2010 became uninsured.
“Most of those could not find affordable coverage from insurance companies, and some were turned down when they applied. Of that number, nearly three-quarters delayed needed care because of the cost. They were sick but did not visit a doctor, or chose not to fill a prescription, or skipped a recommended test, treatment or visit to a specialist.
Nearly three-quarters had problems paying medical bills when they did visit a doctor or a hospital. They used up their savings, struggled to pay medical debts over time, took out loans when they could, declared bankruptcy or ended up unable to pay for other basic necessities like food or housing.”
Healthcare is expensive. If you’ve ever had any tests or hospitalizations and gotten the bill (even if paid by your insurance) the amount can be heart stopping and unbelievable. In March 2009 I was on my way home from Colorado where I’d attended a court hearing to remove the squatter in our home (too late to save it from foreclosure), driving a rental truck with our recovered possessions through a snow storm somewhere near Vail when my phone rang. It was the kids’ school – telling me through static that my son had been taken to the hospital. That’s about all I heard before the call dropped out. Hours of tense white-knuckled driving got me through the storm to a place with cell coverage and I finally got the full story. My son, then in kindergarten, had choked on something in the classroom and the school had called 911. Even though he had swallowed the object by the time the ambulance got there they took him to the hospital anyway. There he had an x-ray and was pronounced fine. The 2-mile ambulance ride alone cost over $1200. I had insurance at that point but they declined to cover the ambulance saying that the situation was not an emergency, and thus not covered. Insurance like that, or no insurance at all, kind of forces you to play the part of your own doctor.
You know that unemployed fellow with a killer toothache that I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Believe it or not, he’s not the only one. In March of this year Mark Erdman also suffered a toothache and being without insurance treated it himself with increasing amounts of over the counter pain killers. The acetaminophen and ibuprofen caused liver and kidney damage – so much damage that he wasn’t going to live without an organ transplant. The hospital told his wife it would cost $195,000 to do the transplant and that they required half that amount up front. The family didn’t have the money and by the time they had gotten Medicaid coverage, Mark had suffered brain damage, making him ineligible for a transplant. He was removed from life support and died shortly thereafter.
I would really like to have health insurance again. And I can, in early October, if I ‘m working 30 hours a week by then. I can work 30 hours a week as soon as I can afford childcare for my two youngest children in the after school program. Of course that’s the catch-22 – I can’t afford the nearly $400 upfront costs ($130 annual registration fee and two weeks of care at $129 a week) without working more hours! This is the merry-go-round I ride at night as I lie in bed, always in sight of the next horse, so close but never catching up to it, wondering how to make it all work, reaching for another Aleve for my aching, broken molar.