Several things have brought the subject of health care to my mind today. None of those has made me feel more sanguine about life. I have not seen the latest offering from Michael Moore, but I think I get the gist of the message. It seems to me that his bottom line was that the health care in the United States was the second most expensive in the world, while the citizens of the U.S. were only the 37th healthiest in the world. The ranks might be off a little one way or another, but that was the general idea.
I have no trouble believing that. I know that roughly 1/3 of my wife’s salary as an office manager at a large state university is deducted for health insurance. I know equally well that I am skipping procedures and medication that have been proscribed but that we cannot afford. In other words, we pay about $6,000 per year in health insurance premiums, yet cannot afford to avail ourselves of the health system.
Only once in the last ten years have we used nearly $6,000 a year in health care. That year, the medical bills left over from my cancer surgery forced us, finally, into bankruptcy. During the course of that process, which also involved four months of problems because of a staph infection the hospital gave me and failed to treat me for, I was given every test known to man, repeatedly. Did the hospital (Lawrence Memorial Hospital), as the party responsible for my infection, pick up any of those costs? Nope.
Did my heath insurance carrier, after all those years of $6,000 premiums, pay enough of the bills to keep me out of bankruptcy, even though they were still way ahead of the curve financially on me? Nope. They aren’t really there to pay your medical bills, you know. They are there to make a profit. And they do that, year after year, by paying as little as possible of your medical bills, despite what they say in the television commercials.
My doctor finally insisted, about 18 months ago, that I have a cat-scan to see if my colon cancer had decided to come back for a visit. It had not, but I was left with a bill for $1200 or so, after insurance, of the costs for the test. I’m still paying that off, and will be doing so for another six or seven months. In the interim, he has wanted me so have another two cat-scans and three colonoscopies. Who is kidding who, here? That is enough testing to leave leftover bills of more than my annual insurance premiums, which I already cannot really afford.
A lot of this is a problem because I am disabled due to multiple sclerosis and unable to work. My neurologist is of the opinion that I should have annual MRI testing to keep up with that problem. MRI’s are even more costly than cat-scans. If I can’t afford the latter. how the hell am I supposed to afford the former? Although we have vision insurance, I can’t afford to pay for “my portion” of vision testing and new glasses. I haven’t done that for six or seven years.
My dentist has been nice about letting me pay off the balances left over when my dental insurance leave off by paying her at so much a month, usually fifty dollars. But after I get done paying the hospital $50 a month for the two-year-old cat-scan and the dentist $50 a month for the dental work a year ago, eating gets a little dicey every month, so we eat a lot of poor-people food, which is not healthy. That’s not surprising, since medical problems and their costs have reduces us from upper-middle-class to poor.
What I am absolutely sure of is that it does not matter how good your country’s health care is if you can’t afford to participate in it, and that it does not matter how good your health insurance is if you cannot afford to pay “your portion” of the costs.
And we are the lucky ones. Because my wife works her butt off for not very much of a salary for the state, we at least have health insurance. There are people all over our country, including those children for whom George W. is going to veto health care, that have no health insurance and most certainly cannot afford to pay the costs associated with living in the country with the second most expensive health care in the world. They, and I, are left to participate only in the part about living in the 37th healthiest country in the world.