Hey you know what no-one ever talks about anymore? Health care! No but seriously, everyone is talking about President Obama’s new plans for reforming the health care system in America … and we thought it would be worth a look at what we all deal with in the day-to-day when it comes to Health Care. [I guess if there’s three things Americans are terrible at talking about honestly, it’d be money, the inner workings and healthy functions of our naked ugly bodies, and (right now) employment.] We’ve heard the absolute horror stories (and there are many), but these are our stories. ‘Cause you know — Sicko ain’t the whole story.
Team Autostraddle often lacks the diversity of perspective/experience we wish we could for most political discussions. But we found that when it comes to employment, finances, and health care, perhaps “your twenties” is precisely the time period when one is most likely to have a group of friends with wildly variant situations.
In addition to the core team reporting — including our resident Australian Crystal –– this week’s roundtable includes Intern Emily (representing Canada), Intern Daphne (Belgium!) and Natalie’s friend (that’s right, a boy!), who currently resides in The UK, to participate.
So what’s your situation? If you’re a big ol’ lez, it’s likely your struggles to get adequate care are even more pressing than for strais who can marry their way into benefits. Let’s begin.
Alex – 24 – New York, USA – Insured (via ex-employer)
“What the f*ck is my plan good for? Really Papi?”
Since I lost my full-time job in June, I pay a modest monthly cost for Cobra through my former employer. Luckily, Obama raised Cobra’s subsidy under the new economic stimulus package to cover 65% of this cost for me. So anyone who has lost their job (me!! meee!) gets 65% of this monthly health insurance charge covered by the government. I’m really thankful for this.
“It’s still taking me way too long to figure out what is and isn’t covered under my specific plan.”
While I was working I was covered under Oxford Health Insurance… I believe it was the POS* Plan? It’s still taking me way too long to discover what is and what is not covered under my specific plan. They make it fucking impossible with their big fancy words!
Basically, I recently had an upper endoscopy (it was 10 minute procedure in which I was put out and they stuck a camera down my throat,) and then I got a $600 anesthesia bill and a couple months after that a $1100 bill for the endoscopy itself. Nice. What the fuck is that plan good for? Really papi.
Needless to say, I guess I’m pretty ignorant about health insurance and its issues. Howevs, I do know that the state of health care in our country is absolutely deplorable and things ’round here need to change. It was a similar scene in 1965 when our prized Medicare program passed the Senate despite the same grumblings from the right about “socialized medicine”. Yes, the financial situation today is more complicated. But had the very distant financial projections of the Medicare program been made known at the time, the Medicare bill wouldn’t have passed. Just my little piece there… totally up for discussion.
* “Piece of Shit”
Stef – 25 – New York, USA – Uninsured
“I’m 25 and often feel like I’m 80.”
I haven’t had any kind of health insurance since graduating college in 2004. I can’t afford the state-wide programs my worried Jewish mother forwards me articles about. It hasn’t modified my behavior per se — it’s not like I was doing a lot of skydiving or skiing before –but I’m definitely cautious as I know emergency healthcare just IS NOT AN OPTION for someone like me. Every time I get a stomach cramp, I think oh God, it’s my appendix, I’ll need surgery, I will go bankrupt. I often tell people that if I ever break an arm or a leg, you may as well take me out back and shoot me.
I often tell people that if I ever break an arm or a leg, you may as well take me out back & shoot me.
Presently, I only see doctors in absolute emergencies, like ruptured eardrums or extreme strep throat. Last year, I experienced the profound joy of trochanteric bursitis, which is an inflammation of the shock absorbers in my left hip. Basically, the bones in my hip were grinding together constantly, causing excruciating pain and making me literally unable to walk. I lived in a fifth-floor walk-up in Spanish Harlem and didn’t have the luxury of… well, anything, so I saw an orthopedist. It took the doctor about a minute and a half to diagnose me — for a $400 charge.
I was told to take expensive arthritis meds for a month & attend physical therapy twice a week for eight weeks at $75-$125 a pop. A month later nothing was better so the same orthopedist gave me a $400 cortisone shot.
Luckily, my parents stepped in and helped me out, but this was a problem that should have resolved itself within a month. After eight weeks of therapy, I was still limping but couldn’t afford treatment anymore. My parents literally asked if I could “just take an Aleve or something.” It took me a few days to understand that I wasn’t actually mad at THEM; they were helping me out as much as they could. I was mad at the SYSTEM.
Now this supposedly temporary ailment is something I live with almost constantly. If I’m super active, doing a lot of walking or even dancing, my hip will start aching and I’ll have to slow down. I’m 25 and often feel like I’m 80. I simply cannot afford to have this properly treated, and have instead become a huge fan of homeopathic remedies and illegally acquired pain medications.
It blows my mind that in other countries, emergency medical care is a given, and doctors are something you can just see whenever you want to. I would absolutely LOVE to have public health care that I could afford, and I would love to be able to be more pro-active and conscientious about my own health. It would literally HELP ME DANCE.
Intern Emily – 19 – Canada, USA – Insured (government)
“The biggest problem in Canada is long lines.”
Canada has a healthcare system very similar to that of Australia’s. It’s publicly funded and offers all residents access to hospital/doctor/basic treatment, with variations among provinces as to how much has been set aside. In Quebec, we all have “compulsory” health insurance — the word sounds bad, but why wouldn’t anyone want to be able to show their Medicare card and get a doctor’s appointment?
“…why wouldn’t anyone want to be able to show their Medicare card and get a doctor’s appointment?”
Thankfully nothing serious has ever led me to test the system, but I hear good things about it and I’ve never had to worry. My Mom had cancer and my Dad says our Quebec health insurance did cover standard treatment, which is great ’cause most people couldn’t afford it otherwise. I had a free eye doctor ’til I turned 18, and though my parents have to pay for my glasses & contacts now, in the grand scheme of things they’re not complaining.
The biggest problem here is long lines. ‘Cause it’s free or prepaid, people go to the doctor for everything just ’cause they can.
For more serious cases obvs people with emergencies get to go first, but even people who don’t have life threatening injuries/illnesses will sometimes have to wait months for surgery. Though after reading the rest of the roundtable and listening to This American Life’s podcast about the health insurance industry, I’d rather wait in line.
Laneia – 28 – Arizona, USA – Insured (via husband)
“As a mother, I’m constantly aware of my own mortality.”
Health care is a serious pain in my neck. As a mother, I’m constantly aware of my own mortality. I mean, if I die of cervical cancer [one of at least six diseases I’m convinced I have at any given moment because I might be a hypochondriac], there are two tiny people who will seriously miss me. Then they’ll grow up to be angry, bitter men, unable to truly love someone because of their gripping fear of abandonment. Right? Right. It’s sort of my job to stay alive. And in order to stay alive, I need preventative care, which requires health insurance. The health insurance I currently enjoy is provided to me through my husband. That’s right. I’m still married! On the one hand, this affords me health care. On the other hand, I’m still married.
“On the one hand, still being married affords me health care. On the other hand, I’m still married.”
I could probably obtain health care through a state-run program, but I haven’t looked into it. My partner’s employer does provide domestic partner benefits, but in order to receive them we have to actually be domestic partners [go figure!], which requires a filling out of forms and oh yes, neither of us can be married to someone else. What a lovely corner I’ve painted myself into! Happily, divorce is in my immediate future, so I’ll soon be swimming in the confusing sea of acquiring new health insurance.
I’ve never been without good health care, which is sort of just dumb luck on my part, and despite my hypochondria, I’m relatively healthy. I’ve never experienced the stress of being unable to afford a hospital bill, yet. I think it’s realistic to say that we’re all just one terrible accident or moment of fate away from being in that position, and that’s a pretty frightening thought.
The fact that quality health care is seen as a luxury in this country is reprehensible. It is a basic human right and should be provided to everyone, plain and simple. I still support a public option because I believe it will force the private health insurance industry to stop being such assholes and it would give me the opportunity to insure myself, as opposed to always being someone else’s dependent.
Tess – 28- Indiana, USA – Insured (small business owner)
“Health insurance is by far the largest expense my company incurs.”
I’ve never gone a day without health insurance. I’ve either been covered under my parents or through my company. Currently, I technically pay out of pocket for my insurance. I own a small company and provide health insurance to my employees and myself via a group plan which is by far the largest expense my company incurs. I spend $40,000 a year to insure 8 people. The plan doesn’t include dental or vision and comes with a very small discount. I generally don’t use the insurance outside of my yearly trip to the lady doctor and yearly allergy shots.
However, this one time I almost died and racked up over two million dollars worth of hospital bills for which I only had to pay $10,000. I have no clue what would’ve happened to me had I been on a government plan or uninsured. I can’t even begin to think about that.
Thankfully I can afford to carry this coverage and will continue to pay the inflated price to keep it. I do think that the government should provide some type of plan to those who can’t afford it but not at the expense of quality care. The way the government currently provides insurance sucks. Yeah it’s better than nothing, but that shouldn’t be the case.
Next: “It’s exactly what the anti-universal-health-care people fearmonger you about — mediocre doctors, overcrowded clinics, impossible bureaucratic paperwork mazes to navigate for basic care and indignant overworked asshats on every “service” line.”
Stories from Carlytron, Crystal, Riese, Robin and Intern Daphne
Carly – 27- New York, USA – Insured (Employer)
“It’s ridiculous to think that my situation is the exception, not the rule.”
For the past 18 months I’ve been fortunate enough to work for a company that has a really fantastic benefits package (medical, dental, vision, etc). Before that I had no insurance for over two years. Luckily, any health issues (various colds, a badly sprained ankle and resulting months of physical therapy, etc) only happened once I had insurance again.
The time I didn’t have insurance was really stressful and scary but for me; at one point I had bronchitis for two months because I didn’t want to have to pay out of pocket to see a doctor. I am one of the few people I know who has had insurance their entire life, save for that two year period, and it’s ridiculous to think that my situation is the exception, not the rule.
I believe in a public option, I believe that something needs to be done because health care in the US is a joke. I’ve been trying to follow the town halls and everything else surrounding Obama’s attempts at health care legislation but it’s been hard because the opposition is batshit crazy and totally unbelievable. Aside from gay rights (and fixing the economy and ending the war) this is the issue I feel most passionately about. Most of the people around me are having health care issues and it’s completely unacceptable in the United States of Effing America.
Crystal – 25 – Sydney, Australia – Insured
“Medicare is fantastic – it offers free or heavily discounted health care to every Australian.”
I’ve spent my life going back and forth between Medicare, the Australian government run health care system, and private health insurance. Medicare is fantastic – it offers free or heavily discounted health care to every Australian. Whether I have a broken limb or an emergency, or need antibiotics or daily UV treatments, I can walk into a hospital or medical centre and get treated for free. Sort of. Medicare taxes me 1.5% of my income, taken from my tax return so that I don’t even notice. And at about $50 p/month for basic cover, private insurance is also a good option.
“The most ridiculous medical cost I’ve ever faced was in the USA.”
The most ridiculous medical cost I’ve ever faced was in the USA. I went to the ER in Austin Texas for a really bad flu and it cost $400. Not only was it unreasonably expensive, but it wasn’t even good – they diagnosed me with asthma, wtf. I’ve had a few health issues over the years, and if I was uninsured and living in America then I truly believe I’d either be bankrupt or dead. I have no idea why America’s health system is so unreasonable. I suggest you all come and live here, where health care is practical, high quality and affordable, particularly for the people who need it the most.
Riese – 27 – New York, USA – Insured (Government)
“My government-subsidized health insurance is so much better than nothing.”
My health insurance (Dental & Basic) is through the New York State government; basically it’s like Medicaid and available to people with poverty-level-or-below income. It’s exactly what the anti-universal-health-care people fearmonger you about — mediocre doctors, overcrowded clinics, impossible bureaucratic paperwork mazes to navigate for basic care and indignant overworked asshats on every “service” line.
But ya know what? It’s free and IT’S SO MUCH BETTER THAN NOTHING! I’m lucky to have it. Copays are low and though it took six months to get set up with a therapist, my weekly therapy is covered by the plan ‘cause I so crazy. Howevs, I’ve paid out-of-pocket for meds 4 or 5 times due to administrative errors.
“Based on the amount of time we’re expected to wait on the phone or at the doctor’s office, I assume most patients with my plan must be unemployed.”
It’s an HMO, which means I need a referral from my GP for anything, which’s problematic ’cause to get an appointment with her requires 4-5 hours of phone call re-directs and follow-up actions involving snail mail, cards, booklets, forms, etc. Working 40+ freelance and part-time hours a week for the last four years, and now with starting my own business, I rarely have time to actually make a doctor’s appointment happen. Based on the amount of time we’re expected to wait on the phone or at the doctor’s office (I’ve waited up to six hours past my appointment time), I assume most patients with my plan must be unemployed. It’s a Catch-22!
Still, it’s better than nothing, and if catastrophe strikes; I’m covered. [Check out a record of my most efficient doctor’s appointment ever srsly – Live-Blogging my Doctor’s Appointment! And yes another fun day at the doctor!]
Before Medicaid, I’d been alternatively uninsured or under-insured since my Dad (and his tenured university professor’s benefits package) died in ’95. My Mom tried her darndest to get me covered as best she could, when she could, often out of pocket, and I used school health services when possible, but ultimately I ended up spending a gigantic chunk of the trust my Dad left behind on my medical care between 1995 and 2004. I felt so lucky to have the ability to pay out of pocket that I didn’t think about what I’d do when that money ran out … and then it did, five years ago … and I want to slam my head against the wall thinking about those bills. My largest expenses include the year it took to diagnose me with Fibro, which included lots of specialists and then two months of weekly physical therapy mistreatment and another four of actually beneficial physical therapy, three times a week AND then a psychiatrist.
I think all Americans are entitled to the same health care I currently have, which in terms of quality is probs equal to most public schools. Enough with this! We need more prevention, education and recess. Why are some lives worth more than others? Furthermore, the administrative and computer system labyrinth I encounter with this plan is MIND-BLOWING. So much money could be saved if all our records were centralized, for example. Technology, people!
I also honestly don’t think any human who hasn’t gone un-insured or been close to someone who has can really truly grasp the situation … when you’re living hand-to-mouth and an $850 — let alone $8,500 — bill shows up in the mailbox, it’s like a dinosaur is in your mailbox eating your hand off. Which would also be pricey.
Robin – New Jersey, USA – Uninsured (Self-Employed)
“I own my own business, how many more effing insurance policies do I need to have!?!?!”
I have no health insurance. In fact, there were only 6 months of my life post-college when I actually had health insurance. In the past, it has been because I could not afford to have it, but now I’m just lazy and probably mildly retarded. I am also stubborn and feel like I should not have to pay an insurance company in order to just have the basic human right of emergency care and routine check-ups. It’s just sick. I own my own business and pay the following insurances already: Car insurance, Renters insurance., Liability insurance, Insurance on my equipment. How many more effing insurance policies do I have to have!?!?! I have only terrible things to say about America’s Health Care system. After reading everyone else’s responses, I think we have covered it, so don’t even get me started.
Intern Daphne – 20 – Belgium – Insured (Government)
“If us Belgians can manage to have such system, why can’t anyone else?”
Let’s face it: Belgium has one of the best health Insurance in the World. Basically every taxpayer enjoys a basic health insurance. This means partially or whole refunds of doctors/specialist visits and medicine, the freedom of choosing your own physician, no long waiting times to see a doctor or specialist and high quality care from every healthcare worker. Besides this basic health insurance you can buy upgrades from the government or private institutions, but next to America these are way cheaper because the Belgian government is very serious about keeping good health insurance affordable to most. Well it’s not really free because you, the employee, and employers have to pay special taxes to fund this nationwide kind of social security. Also there is a lot of paperwork involved. But still it’s some damn good health care here in Belgium.
“Let’s face it: Belgium has one of the best health insurance in the world.”
Besides this basic insurance, we (my family) have a few extras like hospital admission insurance etc. This came in very handy when I had to be admitted in the hospital for about half a year, now a year ago. Instead of the 2000+€ a month I only had to pay about 200€. I’m still seeing a doctor weekly or biweekly and that’s practically for free.
If these doctors appointments would not be covered by insurance, it would be simply too expensive for me to visit my doctor. But also going to your physician for strep throat or a sprained ankle is so easy and cheap, and believe me, I’m a regular at my doctor for those things because, maybe more than in America, you need prescriptions for all kinds of silly medicine. O and have I already said that also medicine is covered by health insurance and thus very cheap?
I think every government should provide a basic health insurance and look over the quality of healthcare. It really pisses me off how expensive and unorganised health insurance in America is. I mean, if us Belgians can manage to have such system, why can’t anyone else?
Next: “Before we can even begin to offer affordable healthcare for everyone, we first have to define what is necessary and counts as a “need” when it comes to healthcare. “
Stories from Katrina, Brooke, Natalie, Natalie’s Boyfriend and Tinkerbell!
Internicane Katrina – New York, USA – Insured (parents)
“Our system is structured for profit, and subsequently, the people who need the most help have the least resources.”
Healthcare is pretty much the only topic where I’ll admit to being very privileged and a little bit ignorant. I’m a second-year college student whose parents are both employed—I’ve always had health insurance but never knew what exactly it meant, perhaps because my parents found it easier to take the responsibility themselves, or perhaps because they didn’t trust me to properly interact with the Aetna Phone Robot that couldn’t pronounce my name right.
“I know that this issue is going to be very real in three years when I graduate into a jobless economy and need to find a way to cover my ass.”
Even though it’s nice not to have to worry about any ridiculous nonsense like 20% insurance rate increases or making payments in time, I know that this issue is going to be very real in three years when I, along with the other members of my generation, graduate into a jobless economy and need to find a way to cover our asses.
Even though I personally haven’t had negative experiences with my health insurance (besides the given of absurd bureaucratic procedures), a summer of working as a medical transcriptionist exposed me to an endless amount of stories about patients unable to attain necessary medication because their insurance just didn’t cover it. Or insurance companies who denied patients coverage because they had too many medical problems. Our system is structured for profit, and subsequently, the people who need the most help have the least resources.
And yeah, I know it’s too much to ask to follow Canada’s lead toward universal healthcare (sorry Hillary!), but I’m going to call for public option at the least. Not only is public option necessary for reform, it’s also what we deserve; health care is not a privilege, it’s a right. People’s lives and health should not be run like business statistics. Our lives are not for profit.
“Like everything else, Healthcare is an industry.”
I’m basically in the same situation as Tess, except I’ve never been in a near death situation and my current plan covers vision and dental.
There are major issues with our current healthcare system, but, as with everything else in our country, they can’t be resolved by quick fixes. We have to implement both long term and short term solutions and strategies that create a solid infrastructure for the industry.
Because, like everything else, healthcare IS AN INDUSTRY… one that is already so controlled by government regulations and unfortunate monopolies (I’m pro-monopolies in some cases, but not ones that destroy the competition via certain means) that the only real way to ensure it lasts in the long run is to start from scratch (which will never happen). And before we can even begin to offer affordable healthcare for everyone, we first have to define what is necessary and counts as a “need” when it comes to healthcare. Going to stop now.
Natalie – New York, USA – Barely Insured
“Once, I saw a doctor for 73 seconds and was billed $300.”
I currently have COBRA coverage—which is what you get when you leave an employer. It is fine, and certainly better than what I had before: it pays for one doctor visit a year; it also discounts some of my other visits. If I get hit by a bus, though, and rake in the hospital bills, then I am really covered! It’s more like an indemnity plan than anything else.
Before this, I bought health insurance on the private market… I paid a ridiculous amount to have the most minimal coverage ever. Blergh. The most ridiculous health care cost I’ve ever covered myself was $850 for three labs. Fun! Also, once, I saw a doctor for 73 seconds and was billed $300.
“In two months time, when I arrive in America, I will for the first time in my life be uninsured with no access to healthcare, after growing up without ever having to worry about it.’
In the past few weeks, Brits have started following the health insurance reform debate in the US. Not because it’s such an interesting topic, but rather because Republicans have been trashing the National Health Service (NHS) for being a prime example of socialists gone mad, creating enormous bureaucracies with long waiting times, rationing care to only the “productive”, and ultimately pulling the plug on old folks. It’s all lies, of course, but I have a more personal reason to follow what’s going on: I will soon be moving from London to New York and I am not happy with how the debate is unfolding.
In two months time, when I arrive in America, I will for the first time in my life be uninsured with no access to healthcare, after growing up without ever having to worry about it. To me this is so foreign, so absurd, so obviously wrong, I still can’t wrap my head around it.
Should I fall ill in Britain I will get care. No one asks for money. Ever. Everyone can have it and everyone gets the same. No fear of denial of care, or rescission. No life-time capsout-of-pockets. or No paper work, no arguing with insurance companies, or fear of losing coverage should I become unemployed. None of it. If I have a health problem, I go to a doctor and get treatment, no questions asked.
Since the introduction of the NHS 60 years ago, no one in Britain has ever been denied care because they couldn’t pay for it. In the US, 22,000. In the UK, no one has ever gone broke from healthcare costs. In the US, 62 percent of all bankruptcies filed in 2007 were linked to medical expenses. Even more incredible, of those who filed for bankruptcy, nearly 80 percent had health insurance.
Next time his house is on fire, I want him to picture the fire brigade insisting the fire was caused by a pre-existing condition.
At a recent town hall meeting of some Republican member of Congress, a guy stood up and said, “The reason our country is so strong is because we stand up and earn what we’re entitled to.” Fair enough, if only it made any sense. Next time his house is on fire, I want him to picture the fire brigade insisting the fire was caused by a pre-existing condition. Next time he runs out of breath while swimming, I want him to picture to the Coast Guard telling him they are not his insurance company’s preferred provider. Next time he calls 911, I want him to picture the police asking him for his credit card details before they send someone out.
Maybe then he can imagine how foreign, how absurd, and how obviously wrong it appears to me that in America, you do not have a right to healthcare.
Tinkerbell – New York, USA – Uninsured
Hello Autostraddle this is Tinkerbell. As you may or may not know I have been diagnosed with being ‘too thin.’ However you can never be too rich or too thin. This weekend Riese and Alex took me to the shopping mall on Long Island. There were sights and sounds like Kung Pao chicken, Hollister and teenage girls much skinnier than me.
We went to Build-a-Bear and found it full of humans with empty bear carcasses standing in a long line. Riese & Alex asked a nice fat woman if I could be stuffed at Build-a-Bear and she said yes, and also it did not matter that I was not born in Build-a-Bear. And ALSO she said the cost would be free! Riese & Alex barely believed their ears.
However because it was the last day of a “special” and the last week of “summer,” the store was too busy for my neck. I was told to return next week when the schoolchildren will be strapped to their desks doing multiplication exercises and sticking crayons into their noses and at that time I could get more attention lavished upon my beauty & re-stuffing.
In conclusion I now have a few more days to convince Riese & Alex, the Health Nazis, that I do not need care. Littlefoot agrees that I don’t need health care because he is a dinosaur who has miraculously lived on past the dinasourlithic era despite the extinctions of his peers.
However it is nice to know that if I cannot avoid re-stuffing, my care will be free simply because of The Goodness of Humankind and because Build-a-Bear makes enough money from the bear builders that they can afford to fix me for free.
In conclusion health care should be like the shopping mall in Long Island. Lots of choices and for those of us who are unemployed or who are stuffed dogs with one eye falling out, there should be some free care that is both lovely & helpful, offered to me because they can and, therefore, simply should.