My Uninsured Sob Story

I’m sure many of you have heard the story of a 23 year-old with leukemia making the rounds. In response to that and inspired by Twitter conversations with Teresa Trujillo and Kelly Rowland, I have decided to tell you my story about what it’s like to be uninsured in the United States.

It all started when…

…I met a girl. We hit off from the start. We dated for a few years, got engaged, and set a date  for our marriage. On my 29th birthday, a few months before our big event, we found out we were pregnant. My fiance was concerned about performing the ceremony in a church while she was obviously “with child.” I pressed her on this thinking it better to do the proper thing and ensure our little one was born in wedlock. She would not bend I would not relent with the questioning. I soon learned the real reason: she didn’t want go get a different dress or alter the one she had already picked out and paid for. C’est la vi. I gave in.

As it turned out, there was another “little” matter I didn’t tell you about. Fear not, intrepid readers, for I will not hold you in suspense! Our other problem that was delaying the marriage had to do with her immigration process. She had moved to the United States years ago and had been married before to an abusive man currently commuting back and forth to jail, usually for minor drug charges. As such, she was seeking a green card, not for the marriage which she had ended, but under a provision for battered spouses. According to her immigration attourney at the time, ICE/INS didn’t look too kindly on people who appeared to be hedging their bets. Until she had a green card, marriage would have been a potential legal disaster.

Vomiting, Lots and Lots of Vomiting

She ended up getting her card about a month after we found out about the pregnancy and just about the time the real trouble started. Ladies, I know nausea and occasional vomiting, especially in the morning, is common. The problem was that it seemed to last all day. Every day. After it went on for a couple of weeks, she was so dehydrated and weak that I took her to the emergency room. She was actually losing weight. Her life and the baby’s were in danger so I didn’t have time to research options for payment and red tape at my state job (you read that right) prevented me from getting coverage for her until we were married.

At the hospital, she was given an IV, re-hydrated, and stabilized. When she was lucid enough to talk, a kindly elderly woman came to her room and talked with the both of us. She informed us that our state had a supplemented Medicaid program and that she qualified with her green card. She (meaning me) only had to fill out about three pages of information and then she (actually her) signed. I explained that the terms were pretty reasonable. There were no co-pays, bills, and you only had to agree not to defraud the program or fail to notify them if you gained employment or private insurance. We left the hospital that night with stable health, prenatal vitamins, anti-nausea medication, and an appointment to see a prenatal specialist.

A $45,000 Gift

Things got a lot better. We saw the prenatal specialist two days later (glad I’m not Canadian) at a clinic staffed by doctors and run by a local insurance/hospital corporation. We had an ultrasound once every two weeks and blood samples were drawn each time. They diagnosed my fiance with temporary pregnancy-linked diabetes and gave her insulin and support information. The specialist also noticed water in my son’s (yay!) kidneys and recommended dietary changes that worked. Things were great…

Until one morning about six weeks after the first hospital trip. We were talking one morning and my fiance started to mumble. Then, in one of the weirdest moments of my life (coming from an ex-raver, mind you), her face started to contort and twist. She panicked and I called for an ambulance. As it turned out, she had experienced a “tri-pyramidal allergic reaction” between her anti-nausea and something in the oatmeal she had eaten earlier. They gave her an injection of Benadryl and she relaxed.

But now we had a major problem. Without a reliable ant-naseau medication, we were back where we started fearing birth defects, complications, and even for the lives of my future wife and son. The prenatal specialist made a special trip to come and see us. He told us about a new drug that worked better than what my fiance had been taking and with very few reports of side effects. Unfortunately, the monthy cost of $15,000 was a bit too rich for Medicaid. He said he had an idea, though, and left abruptly.

About 15 minutes later, the same social worker that we had seen on our first trip to the ER came and visited us. She told us that the manufacturer of the drug had a special program and that we had to fill out a one-page form to attempt to qualify. They required no proof of income, no identification, and only basically asked for an income estimate and contact information. She left the room, reappeared about half an hour later, and soon we walked out the door with $15,000 worth of pills. We refilled it two times.

The Real Gift Came Early

At about 7 and 1/2 months, during a routine visit to the prenatal specialist, he noticed a rash on my fiance’s lower back. He asked if we had any plans for the rest of the day. I said I had work. He told me to call off. Apparently, my fiance was showing the first signs of kidney failure and that we needed to induce labor. We went to the house and got our things. We returned at about 6PM. She was admitted to the hospital, given an epidural and inducement medication.

My son was born a little bit before 2 in the morning. He wasn’t breathing on his own. The delivery doctor and his staff worked on him while I held his tiny hand. In a few minutes, they took him to intensive care to stabilize him…and they did. During the next ten days, we stayed at the hospital until he was ready to feed naturally. We couldn’t stay with him all the time but we could visit every hour and we did. He had a name tag over his place in the nursery just like all the babies that were there with private insurance. After we were finally discharged, we came back to the clinic for regular checkups. My son is healthy, happy, beautiful, and ridiculously intelligent. He turns 3 this September.

Lessons

It’s easy to throw the word “big” in front of an industry you don’t like. Class warfare rhetoric has poisoned us with the idea that making money (aka pursuing happiness) is something that everyone should be mediocre at. My son and wife are alive today thanks to the “big” insurance run hospital, “big” pharma the provided drugs free of charge, and “greedy” doctors that couldn’t have cared less what they were being reimbursed for their work. We never saw a single bill. When we married later that year, we switched to private insurance that I am proud to be paying for from that “big” corporation.

A 23 year-old with leukemia is bankrupt in the United States. He should thank God that he lives here not somewhere that allows government bureaucrats to deny care based on cost. Bankruptcy would not be a concern because he’d be dead.

There are plenty of things that can fixed in the health insurance industry. None of them will be addressed by a government that screwed up a $1 billion “cash for clunkers” program if we entrust them with a $2 trillion “reform act.”

If I added up the total cost of all the medical treatment my wife received, I’m guessing it would be about $100,000. I told you we never saw a single bill. My wife and I are divorced now (maybe I’m weak but I thought it best after she spent us into $50,000 debt on overseas phone calls and sending money to “relatives” that turned out to be email scammers). As a result, I’m penniless and I see my son two days a week. If I had to, I’d be glad to work 12-hour days for the rest of my life because a minute with my little monster is priceless. The doctors, the generous corporation, and the brilliant drug companies made it all possible.

If price controls, profit caps, and “efficiency experts” (a sick joke, no doubt) were given control of healthcare before my son was born, maybe that prenatal specialist would have become a lawyer. Maybe the drug company never spent the research money to develop the drug that saved us because it was too “inefficient.” Maybe my wife would have been counseled to abort. Maybe we wouldn’t have received timely treatment like so many in the UK, Canada, and other countries that control “specialized care” like that which gave me my son. So much had to go right for him to be born, any one of these factors might have prevented that.

A lot of people like to throw around the word “heartless” so let me tell you where it belongs. A policy that would have kept me from my boy is heartless and I want the crisis-mongers in Washington DC to know that.

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4 Responses to My Uninsured Sob Story

  1. Badtux says:

    That’s a heartwarming story alright. A few things you don’t mention, though:

    The Medicaid program you mention is *only* for pregnant women and is funded via the same pool of government money as WIC. In other words, it’s “government health care”, which you apparently decry. There are, unfortunately, significant holes in Medicaid. If your sweetie had *not* been pregnant, was childless, but had nausea, diabetes, and kidney failures, she would have been placed in the “uncompensated care” pool and billed full retail, which would have been in the hundreds of thousands. Which of course she could not pay, and would have had to declare bankruptcy, thereby ruining her credit for the next eight years. In addition, she would have been forced to go to a public hospital and wait 48 hours or more for care (typical in our local public hospitals) because private hospitals will do uncompensated care only under emergency circumstances, otherwise they require a substantial deposit or insurance.

    Most countries with universal healthcare have more doctors (both primary care and specialists) than the United States. Your focus on Canada and the UK, the only two countries with universal healthcare which do not have more doctors than the USA, is not honest. France, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Denmark, … all have more doctors AND specialists per capita than the US does.

    Regarding R&D, true, we would not have the current level of care that is available if we were spending a lot less. The majority of the cause of increased healthcare spending since 1960 is medications and procedures that did not exist then, when half of my Mom’s Merck manual said “send patient home to die with palliative care” because there was nothing else that could be done. Still, according to the OECD 50% of medical R&D funding is provided by government, and the remaining 50% amounts to an awesome 1.5% of healthcare spending. The notion that R&D would come to a halt if we capped medical spending at its current 17% of national GDP via imposing additional efficiencies upon the system doesn’t pass the laugh and giggle test. Furthermore, the United States is *not* the primary source of health care R&D, every major European country spends a larger percentage of their GDP on health care R&D than the USA does. Indeed, of the six biggest pharmaceutical companies, only two are American. Two are British, and two are Swiss. Granted, they sell into the USA and benefit from that 17%, but if we capped spending, they would *still* be benefitting from that 17%.

    In short: I’m glad that your sweetie fell into one of the special exceptions to the usual Medicaid rules (which allow only individuals with children to participate). That does not mean, however, that her experience is the rule for the uninsured. Most of the uninsured do not qualify for Medicaid under any exception, and thus the uninsured, if e.g. they get cancer, die at twice the rate of the insured, excess mortality studies show that over 19,000 Americans per year die because they lack access to the modern medical system that the other 85% of Americans have access to. This is acceptable only if you believe “let them eat cake” is acceptable social policy. I do not, so it is unacceptable to me.

    -Badtux the Healthcare Penguin

  2. c lo says:

    OMG! But but…….let me guess………you are against same sex marriage?

    • rdickerhoof says:

      It is neither here nor there what I support as it relates to same-sex marriage. The power to recognize marriage not being described as a power of the federal government in the Constitution nor delineated in any way by the amendments to it, the right to specify a definition of marriage becomes a state issue. To satisfy equal protection, there must not be any economic or politcal benefit to any recognition of marriage by the federal government. Therefore, it is my opinion that the most simple and elegant answer to your “question” is that states may or may not decide a definition but that the federal government not recognize any particular type of intimate relationship. Benefits for federal employees should be designated by household and a reform of the tax code, like implementing a “fair tax,” would make that an irrelevant point.

  3. Awesome things here. I am very satisfied to look your article.

    Thanks a lot and I’m having a look ahead to touch you. Will you please drop me a mail?

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