Healthcare in America: Imposing The Death Penalty for Being Poor

“The Health-Care Crisis Hits Home”
In the article above, a columnist for Time chronicles the trials and tribulations she and her family have gone through in an attempt to keep her brother, whose kidneys are failing, alive. He earns $9/hr. Lives in Texas, where the rules for how little you need to earn to qualify for Medicaid are absurd, and 25% of the population is uninsured. Has Asperger’s syndrome (high functioning autism). Purchased “temporary” insurance from a company with a record of “post-claims underwriting” (going back after the fact when a claim is filed and looking for reasons to justify excluding the claim based on prior history), who only paid up after the state dept. of insurance started looking into the situation.
The only sane reaction, after you’ve read this story, is to be utterly enraged and disgusted. I had to walk away from the computer, halfway through the story, because it upset me so much. It is very clear that the guy would probably be dead by now if he didn’t have a super-empowered sister who has covered these issues for 15 years and even moderated a presidential candidates forum on them. Even with that, he’s not having an easy time of it. What about all the people who aren’t equipped to advocate for themselves, or don’t have a champion like her? They suffer, and then they die. That’s it. Pure and simple. What else can someone making $9/hr. do? Where is someone like that supposed to come up with thousands of dollars for deductibles, excluded and uncovered expenses, copays, etc.?

I haven’t seen my MD for far more years than I like to think about (a full physical exam is about $600). I just saw my dentist for the first time in way too long, and while he was pleased at the general state of my oral health, he regretted to inform me that I need two crowns, plus some other miscellaneous work, and that he’d be happy to do the work, assuming I had the $4000 or so lying around that would be needed to get it done. Sure. I’ll get right back to you on that, doc.
I’m doing everything I can in the absence of being able to afford health insurance to keep myself healthy (eating healthy, avoiding junk foods, avoiding vices, working out religiously), but I can’t control the random hand of fate. This guy’s story is way too close to my own for comfort.
What does no health insurance in America get you?
* A tremble in my fingers that causes an MD friend to think I might have some kind of thyroid condition, but no ability to have that formally confirmed. Compensating side effect: insensitivity to cold that makes your friends envious.
* Sudden vertigo attacks which might be microstrokes… but paying cash for a couple of doctor visits, blood test and a hearing test (more about that below) yields nothing obvious, and the next step would be a $1700+ MRI and the doctor basically systematically going through every test in the book to figure out what’s going on. We both agree that I should come back when I have insurance. Compensating side effect: introduction to an accupuncturist whose treatment and dietary advice seem to have ameliorated the problem… or maybe they just went away on their own? Who knows?
80% loss of hearing in my left ear (per latest round of testing by an audiologist), due to some unknown cause that two sequences of doctor visits have been unable to identify. Speculation is that mild systemic inflammation on that side of my cranium has put pressure on the nerve and damaged it, as the first go around was able to temporarily ameliorate the problem with steriods (no root cause of the inflammation has been identified). Compensating side effect: excuse for why I can’t hear when my wife wants my attention for some unpleasant chore, and for asking people to repeat themselves when I don’t understand them.
A bad right knee that, every so often as I go up and down the stairs, provides me with a painful reminder of a bicycle accident I had in high school, aka stabbing pain and weird “slipping” sensations, and which I’m sure at some point is just going to fail completely. Compensating side effect: excuse to request help from others when moving from one apartment or storage unit to another, because the knee can’t take more than a couple hours of strenuous exertion before hurting so much that I can’t do anything useful.
A slipped disc in my back (at least, that’s what my educated friends speculate, of course I haven’t had any confirming diagnosis from a doctor), pain from which regularly wakes me up in the middle of the night. My wife can run a finger down my spine and feel the lump it produced – and if she hits it wrong, it feels like someone just slipped a knife in my back. Compensating side effect: male equivalent of “not tonight honey, I have a headache”.
I live with the fact that I’m playing Russian Roulette with my health, but the fact is, I don’t have any choice but to pick up the gun and play… I drive a 20 year old car an hour each way to work. So does my wife. I live in an apartment in a 130 year old building which I’ve been told could be red-tagged any day (and I understand why), and count myself lucky that I have a bedroom for each kid (wife and I sleep on the enclosed porch). Nothing about my lifestyle is even mildly extravagant, and even after working steadily for a year and a half, I still had over $30,000 in debt owed to family, vendors to my business, and past-due tax bills. … and since I lost my biggest client, I’m steadily falling behind on all of this again. The $1250 a month I’m supposed to be socking away for “retirement”? Don’t make me laugh.
There’s no way, month after month, I could consistently afford $3-400 to pay for a high deductible HSA type insurance plan, not to mention that the pre-existing conditions clauses would exclude coverage for everything actually wrong with me at this point. Or the fact that I’d have to first set aside thousands in cash in an HSA, then burn through it, before I saw any benefit.
At this point, I’m just counting down the years till both kids are graduated from high school and no longer minors, so I can migrate to Sweden (which my wife is a citzen of), and hoping nothing goes too wrong in the meantime. Every day, I pick up the gun, pull the trigger, and hope the barrel’s empty… and the hell of it is, I won’t even know if it’s not, until long after it’s fired. I might be a Dead Man Walking, and I don’t know it. Nice way to live, eh?
… and there are 48 million others out there like me, and untold millions more who think they have insurance, but really don’t (like the gentleman in the article featured above).