THE PALEOCRAT TRIBUNE

Little more than a gaggle of hacks and geeks.

The Ills of American Healthcare

with 2 comments

American healthcare is a wreck. Cost for insurance is through the roof, employer-provided healthcare is going the way of the dodo, and close to 75 million Americans are left without any medical coverage. What should be done? Anything?

It must be granted from the outset that I am ill-equipped to discuss the intricate details of the healthcare industry. Like most Americans, I know very little about the ins-and-outs of healthcare. This isn’t to say we are completely ignorant. No, we are relatively familiar with the waiting rooms, the stack of forms to fill out, and the impersonal care of physicians. We are also all too aware of the increasingly outrageous costs for even the most basic medical care.

My initial glimpse into the system was when Angela and I had our first child. Samantha was born in Trenton, New Jersey, on May 22, 2004. I had recently been medically discharged from the military and was receiving healthcare from the Veterans Affairs (VA). This did not cover my wife, Angela, who decided to continue working for Staples in order to remain covered under their health insurance program.

Angela went on maternity leave just prior to her due date, and everything seemed to be flowing quite smoothly. That was, of course, until she had the baby. What Staples hadn’t told her was that when an employee goes on paid maternity leave, all but one thing remains the same. While they continue getting paid, and while they are assured their position upon return, the automatic withholding of funds for health coverage ceases. In short, rather than the employer withholding funds used for health insurance prior to cutting the check, they leave the withholding and payment up to the one on medical leave.

This omission was rather strange, and it was so for at least two reasons. First, Angela had worked at Staples for five years. She was a valued employee and had even been offered a high-paying position in a store soon to open in Connecticut. Second, if there was ever a time where an employee would be in need of such vital information, it would be when they are on leave for medical purposes.

Sadly, we only found this out after Samantha was born. Actually, it was about 15 minutes after she was born. Hearing from the nurse that we had no insurance was one thing, but being handed a bill of over $20,000 was something altogether different.

Staples insisted that it was not their responsibility to tell their employees going on medical leave that the medical coverage they had received for five years would no longer be taken out prior to cutting the check. Rather, it was the responsibility of the employee to ask whether or not the company would continue withholding the funds that they had been withholding for all those years, all of which were times when not on something referred to as medical leave.

Since this instance, we have had a number of bills. We have worked towards paying off outstanding bills, but accidents happen. Angela cut her thumb while doing dishes. She received a couple stitches, which also came with a bill for around $1,200. I took a ride in an ambulance which resulted in a little more than $600. They thought I was having a heart attack. The hospital hooked me up to a machine, drew blood, and diagnosed me with having stomach spasms that caused a chain reaction of unfortunate sensations that ultimately led to me hyperventilating and, consequently, having a heart-rate registering through the roof. After being discharged within an hour, I received a pleasant little bill for over $2,000. To make matters worse, the doctor laughed as I was told that a mere passing out would have resolved the problem, as my body would have tried to readjust itself.

Ambulatory care overreacts: $600
Doctor tells me I had gas pain: $2,000

So why am I talking about any of this? Why should you care? Maybe you don’t. But for those who have been dealt a tough hand in life, or any who know what it feels like to be shafted by employers in cahoots with insurance companies wishing to dodge any bullet from billing, or anyone who has had to pay thousands of dollars to be told that they don’t have a problem, this entire topic is meaningful. I would dare say that it is, or at least ought to be, meaningful for all Americans, as most all of us are in need of healthcare and will, in all likelihood, rely upon health insurance at some point in our days on earth.

As I admitted in the beginning of this uncharacteristically long post, I am ill-equipped to deal with the nitty-gritty of the healthcare debate. But I am most certainly someone with a vested interest in the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of not only me and mine, but also my fellow Americans. I am concerned enough, and compassionate enough, to begin looking into the matter with a critical eye, hoping that maybe we can come to a place, as a people, where care will be the first thing on the minds of medical providers and where bills are last on ours.

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Written by Paleocrat

November 18, 2008 at 11:28 am

2 Responses

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  1. My husband had the same heart attack scare two months ago. In his case, it was acid reflux. $2,300 later we find this out.

    I once had to haggle with an insurance agent over a $300 ambulance bill for when I had passed out at work. She insisted that I should have known which ambulance provider was covered under my plan. Oh, right, like I could have piped up at that moment, “Noooo…get the other paramedic!” They paid the bill.

    Anna

    November 18, 2008 at 11:46 am

  2. Up until very recently I was a mortgage broker in a rural area with a lot of agriculture and manual labor or service-sector jobs. A good portion of my clientele had spent at least part of their life without benefits, and had a median wage floating somewhere in the low 20k range.

    I routinely ran into folks with absolutely horrible credit scores, collection accounts through the roof, and late payments checkered across their credit histories. It’s pretty easy to pinpoint when the stuff hits the fan (mortgage credit reports are frighteningly detailed), and when I would ask what happened, two out of three times the problems stemmed from a catastrophic medical event that buried the borrowers under years of debt.

    Medical collections are a disaster, reporting is sloppy, and the laws that govern the process – and protect the consumer – are distinct from the laws that usually determine consumer credit reporting. Hospitals aren’t in the business of lending, and many don’t have the patience or capacity to deal with hardship intelligently. The whole system is broken and frequently leaves otherwise hardworking, responsible folks with no money and an obliterated credit history. It sucks. It really really sucks.

    I could go on and on about the nuances of repaying debt and repairing credit when healthcare is involved, but the bottom line is that it is so nuanced and complicated that the typical American doesn’t have the time or capacity to monitor their own credit or even know where to begin when stuff like this happens. A simple case of appendicitis can literally mean decades of life without access to a basic indicator of freedom – personal, income-producing property.

    After what you’ve gone through, if you’re not living in a 30 year-old single-wide on rented land and driving a late-eighties model car with peeling paint, you’re far more fortunate than many folks I’ve met.

    C.

    November 20, 2008 at 3:17 am


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