Wednesday, March 02, 2011

2011: The Year Without Health Insurance

In January, I started off 2011 with my blog post 2011: The Year Without Snark, a plea for more civility on the Internet and in all our personal communications. Thanks to all who commented or have taken the pledge seriously and are doing your best to eradicate snark in all its nasty forms.

This month, I’m tackling yet another example of uncivilized behavior apparent in the world today, particularly in the good ol’ U.S.A. You’d be correct in assuming this is a piece about the unfair current state of health care in this country. What you might not have guessed is that I, your dear blogger, am caught in the middle of the whole sordid mess.

Yes, I’m one of those Americans who *gasp!* are currently without decent health insurance.

Since there really is no “emergency back-up plan” for Americans once they’re unemployed (or the family member whose insurance plan included them becomes unemployed) other than the ridiculously expensive COBRA option, we go overnight from being freely allowed in the front door of a doctor’s office if we have a complaint to being told (sometimes politely, sometimes not) to get lost. I think the acronym COBRA says it all—we are transformed into poisonous snakes who aren’t worthy of a fairly priced (or free for those who can’t afford it) health insurance plan. And the fear of snakes is a very common phobia indeed.

So we are forced to choose between health care and food and shelter. After the last month of record setting low-temperatures and snow dumps in the Midwest, guess which items we chose to fund? Well, we didn’t quite freeze and we didn’t eat like kings, but we’re still here.

At the prodding (read: demanding) of my mother, I finally found an overpriced, super-high deductible, temporary health insurance plan we can barely afford to tie us over for at least six months. However, I hold little hope that it will actually help out much should the need arise. If the deductible is more money than you have, and you’re currently unemployed and living on your meager savings, how the heck are you suppose to meet the deductible? Will a surgeon perform emergency surgery knowing you’re only going to pay him a small fraction of the bill? I suspect hospitals routinely use these temporary health insurance cards for toilet paper for all their worth.

To be honest, I carried my defunct insurance card in my wallet around for a while, so overwhelmed was I at the prospect of being denied medical help. I figured if I was in a coma or knocked unconscious, the paramedics or police would rummage around in my purse and find the said lapse insurance card and assume that I was properly insured and would give me the emergency medical care I require. Only after I became conscious and they found out the truth would they have been forced to kick me out of my I.C.U. bed and tell me not to come back until I could afford treatment.

Yes, it is a worse case scenario, and I do have an overactive imagination I’ll admit, but somehow I get the feeling this scenario is based more on fact than on fiction.

Since no one enjoys a whiner, I direct your attention now to a blog written by a friend who expresses her concerns over the current healthcare debacle quite well:

How can we prevent our fellow unemployed/underemployed citizens from discovering their health isn’t important as those with money and power just because they’re not carrying around a current, decent health insurance card? You do wonder if the darn cards aren’t made of platinum or gold… In some way, perhaps they are.

ADDITIONAL: I'm currently reading Inside WikiLeaks by Daniel Domscheit-Berg, a former insider who describes the whole WikiLeaks phenomenon. One of the more interesting quotes I've come across has to deal with a leak about a German pharmaceutical company.

...The public didn't take much interest in the files we published in November 2009 concerning a German pharmaceutical company. If I had to name my favorite leaks from that year, these files would definitely be among them. They read like a case study in corruption and can be easily understood by laymen.

The files concerned payments made by pharmaceutical representatives to doctors so that they would prescribe more of the company's medications. We published ninety-six pages of investigations carried out by police and prosecutors. They detailed the practices used by some pharmaceutical company representatives. If doctors prescribed their patients those products, they received a cut of the additional profits. Moreover, there were direct payments. In an internal e-mail, one of the company's regional directors had written, "If a doctor wants money, call me and we'll find a way." Another means of encouraging physicians to prescribe more of the company's products was to give them coupons for expensive seminars.

---from Inside WikiLeaks, pp. 50-51. (Daniel Domscheit-Berg with Tina Klopp, Crown Publishers, NY)

It does make one wonder who really is driving healthcare costs through the roof--the doctors, the insurance companies or the pharmaceutical industry. Of course, we'll blame (and double bill) the patients... After all, they can help it if they get sick or injured, can't they?

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