Monday, October 17, 2011

On Living Without Insurance


I haven’t had health insurance in a very long time. It’s been at least five years, but probably more than that. My part-time job offered dental and vision insurance but I missed the cut-off date for that when it rolled around. Getting on my mom’s insurance or through my school was out of the question, financially. (The amount you have to pay up-front for one semester of student health insurance is outrageous.) And I’m sure there were other options I could have looked into, but I’m not certain any of those would have been what I needed.

Aside from keeping up with yearly doctor visits, I haven’t felt a huge burden of not having health insurance. It hasn’t been scary, just very inconvenient. It means I can’t go to the doctor when I’m sick or think something is wrong with me. It means I have to keep putting off a visit to the doctor, unless my condition worsens. Since graduating high school, I have had three medical “emergencies”.

  • December 2007. I had a hacking cough for about 3 weeks before I realized I probably needed to see someone about it, to make sure it wasn’t something more serious. It was keeping me awake at night and I had no energy during the day. (This was also around finals week.) I went to student health services at USF where I was tested for bronchitis and a slew of other things. Close to $100 later, I was given a prescription for some type of medicine to help me sleep at night and the name of an over-the-counter medication to help me during the day, Mucinex. Yes. I paid $100 to be told to take Mucinex. Wonderful.
  • September 2010. I sliced my thumb while doing the dishes, granting me my first visit (as a patient) to the ER since I was in fifth grade. I was x-rayed and stitched up by Dr. Handsome and a few weeks later, given a $2,500 hospital bill that I have yet to pay. Oh, fun!
  • March 2011. I started experiencing pain on the left side of my body, around my back and the side of my stomach. I was convinced I was dying but kept it all to myself until the pain got worse and I started seeing little scabs growing where the pain was. At first, I thought it was hives. I was in my last semester of college while also trying to train for a half-marathon I really didn’t want to do. Stress caused my hives! But when I showed it to my grandma, she told me it was shingles. I went to a emergency clinic where I waited, staring at an AIDS poster for one hour, to be seen. It was shingles, easily solved with an antibiotic. This ended up costing around $100, including the visit and prescription. (Although had my doctor not approved a generic prescription, it would have been closer to $350. Ouch.)

Are we noticing a pattern here? Living without health insurance can be VERY expensive. I consider myself very, very lucky I haven’t needed it in more extreme cases.

I’m thrilled about finally being able to have health insurance. I’ll be able to see a gynecologist for the first time in my life. (Yes. I’m serious. I’m seriously anxiety-ridden I am going to find out something is terribly wrong in my nether regions.) I’ll be able to finally see a regular doctor and get some blood work done. I’ll be able to go to the dentist for the first time in, oh, 3 years. Most of all, I’ll have peace of mind. If I get sick, I can see a doctor. If I have an emergency, I can go to the hospital and safely know (some of) my bill will be paid. I won’t have to worry and fret that there is something medically wrong with me.

It always grates on me when people gripe about their co-payments and how much they had to pay out-of-pocket for this procedure or that procedure. First of all, be grateful you live in a country where you can receive healthcare. Be grateful that you can be seen quickly and given the treatment you need, by some of the best physicians out there. Be grateful you have insurance. Maybe your co-payment isn’t exactly what you want, but at least it’s something. Something is better than nothing. Be grateful you can afford to have insurance, or grateful you have a steady job that offers it. Stop the complaining. Maybe our healthcare system needs a lot of work but at least we have one. If I have an emergency, I have my pick of where I want to go from a dozen different hospitals all within driving distance. And maybe you only have one, but at least you have one. Our healthcare system may need work, but at least we have it in place.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some doctor appointments to set up...

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