A weblog about all the inconveniences we encounter in everyday life. Diapers, junk food, cruelty to animals, hostile people, rude cell phone behavior, cancer, terrible customer service (also known as "why the hell am I giving this company my money?"), ignorance, parking, bad spelling, family disturbances, office politics, death (the biggest inconvenience of all) and more. Thanks for saving me thousands of dollars in therapy by reading my blog. It might even make you laugh.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Not a Pretty Picture

I think I've lost most of my blog audience during Hurricane Katrina. Did I get too political? It's just there are so many things going on in this world that are just plain wrong and I can't sit back and watch without saying something, without trying to do something.

I'd probably be a professional activist, except that there are so many causes that come to my attention I can't decide on one. I have a soft spot in my heart for animals, because humans have mercilessly exploited our fellow creatures of the earth. But I haven't yet been able to devote my life to helping animals, because I don't know how to leave behind all of the other causes that are so important to me, particularly health-related organizations, and particularly now when I see the frightening events that are taking place in our society.

America, when are we going to wake up? Is it going to be only when it affects each of us as individuals? We all feel pretty safe until we are the ones who lose our health benefits. And it's going to happen to you. And to you. And before you know it, to you. Trust me on this one. I've educated myself a lot about this, and it's going to happen. Probably sooner rather than later, but count on it to happen in your lifetime unless there is a sea change before then.

As many of you know, over three years ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I was lucky enough to have medical insurance through my company, a small group plan. Today as I write this I do not have insurance. Our insurance company is trying to drop us because we are not profitable. Well, actually, they did drop us, and they're trying to block us from getting reinstated. Why are we not a profitable small group? Because of me and my cancer and my other health costs.

The state I live in, New York State, is one of the best states for the patients in terms of protections, and there are laws against our carrier dropping us for this reason. So hopefully we will fight it and it will be reversed. But if I lived in another state I might have no recourse at all, and everyone at my company would lose out.

So what's the solution here? Drop me out of the plan? Fire me? Put all people with chronic illness in higher risk pools? Or how about not give us the care we need and let us die? That's what's happening to some people in some parts of the country.

Think it can't happen to you? Think again. There are many stories like these, but picture yourself as this woman a few years down the road (this is a true story): A woman worked her whole life for a certain company. She had health insurance. She got diagnosed with breast cancer. She was unable to work during treatment and had to quit her job after using all her vacation and sick days. She lost her health insurance benefits with the job. She paid the COBRA until it ran out in 18 months, and then was not insured at all. Her cancer metastasized. She went through her life savings paying for her treatment in the couple of years after that. Now she has no assets, no job, no insurance and no way to get treatment. Soon she will probably be on Medicaid, but where will that get her? She worked her whole life for this???

Employer-based insurance is the problem. It started out as a solution, but it's a problem now in this country. In Switzerland, where my husband is from, everyone MUST have health insurance, whether you are employed or not. If you can't afford it, the government will help you out. Do they have health care cost problems in Switzerland? Of course. Every country does. But the Swiss have nowhere near to the extent of problems we have here, problems which are leading to the collapse of our health care system.

I'm not exaggerating. When companies such as Starbucks are paying more for the health care of their employees than they are for the raw goods to make coffee, when the average cost of health care for a family for a year exceeds what a minimum-wage earner makes in a year, there is a system collapse in the making.

It seems like it would not work here to have everyone be required to have insurance. But right now most uninsured people in our country get treated where? In the emergency room. Talk about high health care costs. You think it's expensive to see your doctor? Try the emergency room sometime. Try checking into a hospital every time you can't afford your diabetes medications anymore. This is right around the corner, folks. It's already there in the "lower" classes, and it's approaching the middle class and sweeping right up among us. And who is paying for it? The taxpayers.

If everyone were required to be insured, we could actually drive health care costs down. The risk pool would include everyone. Right now who makes up most of the risk pool, particularly the risk pool paid for by the taxpayers? The sick, the elderly, the disabled and the poor. Hmm. Anyone see a mathematical, economic problem with this? We need everyone in the pool to drive the costs down, because right now many healthy people go without insurance because "it's too expensive."

Oh, what, you're healthy and you don't want to pay for my cancer treatment? Fine. Wait until you get sick 10, 15, 25, 40 years from now when you're old and the hospitals are closed and there's no Medicare anymore and your doctor long ago retired and it costs $1,000 to see a doctor anyway, and health care is considered the luxury it is quickly becoming. See what happens to you then. You reap what you sow.

When I was a kid it was assumed we would go to the dentist. Now many people I know, including myself, can't afford to go to the dentist. Besides lack of dental care causing long-term health problems, this is a view of the future of general medicine, not just dentistry. Health care will be for the wealthy.

But that's okay, because TV can solve all our problems. We give away houses on TV, why not health care? We give away plastic surgery, why not health care? Maybe Amy Grant can grant "3 Wishes" to three lucky Americans who get to live because they get sent to MD Anderson or Sloan Kettering, and the other people in the town with illnesses get to watch it on TV from their death beds. Hey, maybe instead of "Extreme Makeover" they'll have "Extreme Health Care" where contestants on the show get to have mammograms and the winner gets treated if she gets diagnosed with breast cancer. The others are sent away to die.

Oh, wait, that's not the future! That's now. The working poor, those who are too poor to own homes and cars, but too "rich" to be on Medicaid or other public "assistance" programs, and too poor to afford medical insurance even though they work for a company that has thousands of stores all over the country, those people? What happens if they get cancer? Nothing. Nothing at all. They're sent away to die. Maybe if they're "lucky" they can enroll in a clinical trial and get "free" treatment. But if that drug company decides to end the study, they're out in the cold again.

So I'm sorry if there's no pretty picture on this blog. I'm sorry if you didn't read this far. It's your loss, because you're going to be blindsided some day. Sooner or later this will affect all of us. Why wait until then?

Here's another story for you:

I first had my taste of this almost 15 years ago when my dad lost his job, and we got this interim insurance. They put a rider on my policy that it would not cover asthma for the first year. After the first year we applied to get the rider removed, but they said, "No, that means you must be symptom-free for a year before we will remove the rider." What person with asthma goes a whole year without medication and without symptoms? If that were the case, you wouldn't have asthma. Yeah, I get it.

So who ended up paying for my health care for my severe asthma? Well, let's see. Me. You. Other taxpayers. And in a small way, even the economy. Because what happened was I got very, very sick and racked up tens of thousands of dollars in medical bills. Why? Because I could not afford the asthma medications I needed to control my asthma, so I ended up repeatedly in the hospital, for weeks at a time. I had no way to pay these bills, although I tried.

I put some of them on credit cards. The interest rates went up and up and up and I couldn't make the payments anymore, and I was still sick, because I still couldn't afford the medications. Eventually I was completely overwhelmed by debt and poor health, and the hospitals took write-offs on the bills I couldn't pay (so you and other taxpayers paid for those bills) and then eventually I had to declare bankruptcy for the tens of thousands of dollars I'd put on credit cards to pay my medical bills, so the economy paid, because those debts went unpaid.

Not what I intended to do. But then again, I was only 21 years old. And even if I was older and wiser, what could I have done differently? What should I have done differently?

To put it another way, think of all of the thousands upon thousands of dollars that would not have needed to be spent on hospitalization in the first place if I had an insurance company that actually INSURED me (what a novel concept!) and paid for my asthma medications, which were a nominal cost compared to hospitalization, but prohibitively expensive for a 21-year-old grad student.

Later I found a medical clinic where I could get medications for free or a low copay, and see a doctor for the same. So again, you and the other taxpayers were helping to pay for my medical care. And eventually my boss did the right thing and got medical insurance for the company where I've worked since 1994, and here we are. I am doing "the right thing," working hard at 3 jobs, trying to pay off some debts and save a little change here and there, and paying my medical insurance premiums every month to the tune of a few thousand dollars a year. But guess what? I'm about to be kicked to the curb again, back in the system where this whole big mess started out.

Not a pretty picture.

P.S. Don't be depressed, do something! (Get involved -- I'll try to find some ways for you to do so if you want and post them here). And don't worry, I'm now married and so my husband's company may get to have the happy task of insuring me with their shitty policy with the ridiculously high deductible and then I'll again have insurance -- after having screwed all my coworkers out of theirs because I got cancer. Nice, huh?