Sunday, March 21, 2010

Health Assurance

Six months ago I was one of 32 million uninsured Americans -- and I didn't really mind. I had spent a significant portion of my adult life without insurance. We did have coverage for all three (uneventful) births, but once back in Kansas without the very cheap, very good coverage of the Screen Actor's Guild plan, The Ex- and I gave little thought to the lapse in coverage. We were healthy, the kids were healthy, and even when we did have health insurance, we didn't use it. Doctors, schmoctors...the body is remarkable at healing itself. And we were invincible to boot.

While I worked at Hope Care Center, I was part of a low-cost HMO. I managed an annual checkup toward the end of my tenure, but giggled at the thought of paying for COBRA coverage upon my exit. Why on earth would I pay hundreds of dollars a month when I didn't average even one visit a year?

At about the same time, I'd taken over the responsibility for getting coverage for the kids. They had been uninsured for several catastrophe-free years, but the divorce lawyers laid out the necessity for their insurance. Because The Ex- worked as a server and I was an unemployed student, I took a deep, guilt-ridden breath and applied for government subsidized health coverage. While filling out the forms, I checked the box beside my name to request a policy for myself. What could it hurt, right?

After several you-need-to-send-us-more-paperwork letters (I assure you, they don't make it easy), I received four shiny new "insurance" cards (I use quotes because that's how you're treated when you use them) in early November. Since I was far more concerned with reading chemistry textbooks than policy manuals, I figured I'd wait until the break and then look at the details to get the kids in for long-overdue (but in my opinion, unnecessary) checkups.

Then to everyone's surprise, I was left speechless one December night. The resulting ER visit and follow-up care and tests would have left me tens of thousands of dollars in debt. But they did not. Because I was covered.

Were I not covered, I might have begged Mark to not take me to the ER even more ardently. Were I not covered, I would have most certainly ignored the follow-up orders for further testing. Were I not covered, I would have accepted the initial diagnosis of a TIA and assumed it all a fluke. Were I not covered, I would have likely taken the suggested aspirin for a month or so and then slipped out of the habit. Were I not covered, I would not have learned I experienced a sub-acute stroke. Were I not covered, I would not know I have a hole in my heart.

Fortunately, I live near an extraordinary learning hospital that accepts this "insurance." I have never felt in more competent hands in any chapter of my healthcare experiences. I know many who are in the same financial boat as I am do not enjoy such qualified care. In sparsely populated areas of my state, one must travel a great distance to be seen by a doctor or facility that would accept this plan. And while emergency rooms must welcome all who walk through their doors regardless of ability to pay, the financial aftermath of a hospital visit is almost always devastating to someone without insurance. So you can add to my "were I not covered" paragraph, "were I not covered, I would have been forced into bankruptcy."

While I was busting my arse trying to acquire the follow-up care with doctors who would accept the pittance that is their reimbursement for their services, I realized that healthcare reform was far bigger than just insuring the masses. But it's one heck of a start. Six months ago I was a Young Invincible. Today I have pre-existing conditions that could easily keep my future employer from offering me reasonable coverage.

But something big happened in Washington D.C. today. Though far from perfect and far from being enacted, I'm still pretty tickled.

1 comment:

Sam Ellis said...

Very well said, Jennifer. I can't sit here and say I've sifted through the hype to see what this really means for Americans, and for me it may mean a substantial hit to my pocketbook.

However, I'm excited to see one of the wealthiest nations in the history of the world finally take a step to improve caring for its own.