Sorry, instead of a post full of holiday cheer, I’m going to bitch about why the U.S healthcare system sucks ass and how it’s beggaring me — and other complaints and observations.
So, my friends, I’ve been remiss in my blogging efforts for the past few months. It started out with my kidney stone, which I wrote about, but life has continued to throw haymakers at me, which has left me feeling less than motivated. But here I am! Back in the saddle — at least for today — because I have stuff to bitch about.
The Tale of Financial Misery
So, I ended up in the emergency room again for my kidney stone — why they didn’t remove it then and there my specialist doesn’t know. What they did was dope me up and give me meds to relax the ureter so that the stone wouldn’t completely block it, which had been leading to the ungodly pressure which was generating the intense, level 10 pain.
Every visit to the specialist, or getting a scan or bloodwork adds to my medical debt.
For those of you who are lucky not to have experience with the U.S. system, this is how things work. Even if have medical insurance, you pay something out of pocket. I have medical insurance, but it’s not great. I had to gamble when I picked a plan so I went with the lowly bronze plan offered through Bright Health (Oh, such an ironic name) because I could afford it. I was thinking I would only need to be on it a few months at most before getting a decent plan through an employer; having been healthy my entire life, I hoped everything would be okay. Oh, how wrong and unfortunate I was.
This health plan has an $8,000 deductible. For those of you who are overseas and have not experienced our insurance system, that means I have to pay $8,000 in medical bills before the insurance company picks up the rest of the tab. Now, if all the medical service I receive is in what they call In-Network, it gets discounted. The bill so far for my damned kidney stone is closing in on $20,000 — my In-Network discount means I owe $8,000. For a kidney stone. That’s still in me.
I swear, I stayed in-network!
Now, I did everything in my power to stay In-Network. When I was in excruciating pain, I didn’t take an ambulance (costing at least $2,000), but drove myself to the nearest hospital that would take my insurance — this meant bypassing the two closest hospitals. When I got there, I told them I wanted everything In-Network. They had me sign forms while I was out of my head in pain or drugged, so I’m sure I got screwed by signing something that absolved them. However, even if you go to an In-Network hospital, it doesn’t mean the staff is In-Network. “How so?” you ask. Because it seems like half the people in a medical facility are independent contractors.
So, disregarding what I had said, they had me see a doctor who was on-duty who isn’t in my network and doesn’t’ accept my health insurance. So he’s charging me a $1,000. The tech that ran my CT scan doesn’t accept my insurance — he’s charging me $700. This occurred on both of my visits. Even the scan center I went to that was In-Network, sent my fucking test results to two radiologists to examine and of course, they aren’t in my network either. So they’re billing me separately. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. Cha-ching. That’s the sound of my bill climbing as my spirit plummets.
It’s not hard to see why the majority of U.S. bankruptcies are due to medical bills. I know a man in his 80s who was bankrupted by his wife’s medical bills and now he works a low-paying job. It’s also no surprise when some people crushed by medical debt commit suicide as they watch their life savings evaporate as liens are put on their houses by debt collectors. Others end up on the streets. Many are financially hamstrung.
Everyone wants a piece of your pie
Trying to figure out who you owe for what is a hassle. I had to go to three facilities, but when I look at my insurance account, it shows there are ten to twelve different names of facilities and individuals who are all billing me separately. It’s insane trying to track who to pay, who to appeal, who might be billing incorrectly, etc.
So, I’m $8,000 in and I still have the damned stone. It’s moved down to the junction of the ureter and bladder but refuses to enter the bladder where it could (hopefully) be expelled. It’s not causing me any pain, but they say it has to come out. I’m going in for surgery the day after Christmas, so I can’t even eat any Christmas dinner, only broth. (Yay! Merry Christmas!) And they won’t do the procedure unless I cough up $2,000 in advance. I don’t have it, so I’m going to have to put it on a credit card that I really can’t afford to pay, so Merry Fucking Christmas to you too, U.S. medical system. Everything is far more expensive than it has to be. They talk about it being a free market, but there’s no real competition.
And, I hope to God there are no complications because on January 1st, my annual deductible falls back to $0 and I have to start paying it again. Luckily, I have been forced to pay for a Silver plan now, so my deductible is only $5,000. I did qualify for free Medicaid care for a split second but then dumb me went and landed a new client that pays me just enough to push me over the threshold. The bad news is I will have a month gap between coverage based on a technicality. Of course something will happen that sends me to the ER.
Why I hate our system
How bad does our system exploit sick people, especially the poor and middle class? They have you over a barrel if you have a major illness. Pay or die. My buddy has lymphoma (doing well right now, thank God), but he has to go for infusion treatments. Guess how much they cost? $10,000 for every session. The session lasts for 15 minutes while they infuse him. He spends another 10 minutes talking to the doctor. All the rest of the time he spends at the center is just waiting. Luckily he has insurance and found some grant that helps a bit, but $10,000 a pop? What are they doing, pumping liquid platinum into him?
Now, people in the U.S. are brainwashed that we have such an awesome system — and yes, there is a high level of care — if you can afford it — but they think that any universal health care is socialism and we’ll all end up as Communists. It’s such bullshit and most of them couldn’t even tell you what socialism is. The Europeans tend to be Social democracies — i.e. capitalist counties that look after their citizens, not billionaires. Universal health care systems have their various problems as well, but they don’t suck the marrow from your bones while you’re still living and put you out on the street. Americans will tell you about socialist death panels, and long waits for care, and substandard care. Again, political bullshit and scaremongering by those who profit off our current system.
Several years ago, my uncle in the UK had a 13-hour, life-saving surgery for pancreatic cancer, which is one of the most deadly cancers out there, and then had follow-up therapies. And do you know how much he paid out of pocket? Zilch. Nothing. Nada. His taxes helped pay for it. He leads a good life too — he’s not some proletariat living a bleak existence as he’s taxed to death. I’d gladly contribute more taxes instead of paying a premium each month just for the peace of mind of knowing that I can get reasonably priced care and not be sent to the poor house.
I spoke to my uncle this week and he has an unrelated chest infection and the specialist said he probably needs antibiotics but would not prescribe them without seeing him first. So the next day, he was in being seen — no long line there. If you look at the data about wait times to see a doctor and a specialist, the myth that U.S. citizens don’t have to wait as long is exposed as not true. Compared to other advanced economies, we are in the middle.
Others see the problem
My buddy, Dave, is one of the few conservatives out there who believe we should have universal healthcare. He’s been a small business owner for 30 years and a conservative his whole adult life. But he will tell you how broken our system is. He pays nearly $2000 dollars out of pocket every month for health insurance for his wife and himself. Luckily he can get insurance now because insurance companies used to be able to refuse coverage for preexisting conditions and so Dave didn’t have any coverage. Sadly, their insurance is only good in our county — that’s county, not country. If he goes out of state, he has to buy travel insurance. He’s terrified of a major illness because it could wipe out 30 years of hard work. As I said, most bankruptcies are medical-related. He just had a sinus operation and he had it priced out upfront for $7000. Then after the operation, they tried to add another $4,500 to his bill because the doctor used an Out-of-Network pathologist. But Dave and his wife Patty fought it and got it dropped to $150 (Patty wanted to continue to fight them out of principle, but Dave decided that was not the hill to die on).
A specialist I saw last week confided in me she found the U.S. system to be immoral. She’s from overseas and when she began working here, she had no idea what a deductible was. In her opinion, a country as rich as this one not having universal health care is backward and mean-spirited. As Bill Burr might say about healthcare and insurance CEOs “How many fucking yachts do you need?”
The current state of the Land Manatee
Anyway, this medical drama has upended me. I was doing well as a freelancer at first — not exceptional, but well enough. Then work dried up from two clients.
I wasn’t worried because the third looked like it would be long term. But then there was some internal problem at that firm. Anyway, there were some shake-ups I guess and budget cuts including the freelance budget. And we’d just scheduled our weekly project meetings for the next 6 months. At least they gave me a glowing recommendation and will hopefully call back next Quarter.
But I still would have been okay if the kidney stone hadn’t hit.
I have to say, 2019 started out with such promise, but the second half of the year skidded out of control and put me into a ditch. It’s just sucked.
I’m not super optimistic about 2020 because of the medical bills hanging over me — though one of my higher-paying clients has reappeared with a boatload of projects; however, trying to get them to move ahead at a crisp pace so Daddy can bill them is problematic.
I have also accepted a part-time gig as a copywriter for the county. The department wants a full-time writer, but it’s not in the budget for now; the county doesn’t want to pay for health benefits (surprise, surprise).
As much as a full-time job would help me pay down the medical debt that I can’t afford, I was hoping to stick with freelancing for the next few months because it’s given me the time to work on my book, the writing of which has been moving along at a good clip. That’s another reason I haven’t been blogging — the book takes precedence.
It’s a gamble, but I am going to try to go 6 more months working freelance so I can try to finish this damned book. but I may have to look seriously for a regular gig. I have put out the some resumes for full-time gigs that were really appealing but no bites. Anyway, wish me luck and that an anvil doesn’t fall out of the sky and put me in the hospital.