I’m one of the lucky ones.
In 2004 the U.S. census reported that there are about 46 million Americans without health insurance.
Me? I had Blue Cross Blue Shield up until I changed jobs a few months ago, now I have Aetna. Before that I was covered under my father’s insurance, United Health.
Yes, I’m one of the very lucky ones. I’ve never had to choose between going to a doctor or paying rent or buying groceries.
This summer I was sick. I hadn’t felt well for weeks but I had never used my insurance before and I didn’t have a primary care physician. I kept putting it off, kept saying I’d deal with the insurance next week, make an appointment next week.
Until next week came and I was in so much pain I could barely walk, or talk, or breathe. Putting it off was no longer an option, finding a primary care physician in Blue Cross Blue Shield’s network was no longer an option.
I went to the student health center on campus and I vomited in their bathroom on my way to urgent care. When I got to urgent care, the nurses told me they couldn’t see me, since I was staff and not a student. But they also told me that I should go to the nearest emergency room because my symptoms indicated a kidney infection.
I spent four hours at the emergency room; I never did see a doctor. A nurse took what little bloody and clouded urine I could manage and then I was left in a room with a curtain between me and the other occupants: a man handcuffed to the hospital bed and a cop watching him.
A physician’s assistant finally came to see me. He was nice, I liked him. He told me the tests confirmed that I had a kidney infection. He sent the nurse back in with some antibiotics, urinary tract analgesics, and a prescription for more of both.
I started to feel better almost as soon as I left the emergency room. It wasn’t so much the pain killers as it was knowing what was making me feel sick, and knowing that I would be cured by the medicine I was going to take.
A week later and I can’t stop vomiting. I can barely stay awake, much less stand up; I kneel, leaning against the shower wall at 3 a.m. and for the first time in my life, I faint.
This time I’m not taking any chances, I’m not putting it off for next week. I look for a doctor who is covered by my insurance. I make a call. I have an appointment for that day. The doctor is unfriendly and uninformative, she won’t believe me when I tell her I’m not pregnant, she sends me off to get an ultrasound of my kidneys but when I get there, they won’t take me because I don’t have an appointment.
A week ago, my parents received a bill in my name for $2,000 from the medical center which houses both the E.R. and the doctor I went to. There’s no indication of what the bill is for, or why the insurance company hadn't covered it. Don’t pay it my mother says.
Today, I had just arrived home from work when my phone rang. It’s the medical center and they want to tell me I owe them money. I ask them why, for what? It’s facility fees, the woman tells me. I feel bad, I don’t like getting rude with people when I know they’re just doing their job but it’s late in the week, I haven’t eaten yet today. I just want to unpack my groceries and make dinner and an edge creeps into my voice. I ask her why the insurance company hasn’t covered it. She tells me to take it up with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
So I call Blue Cross Blue Shield. I’m sorry, I want to apologize to the man I spoke with, for the way disbelief cracked my voice when he told me that I had a $3,000 deductible. For the way I raised my voice when I practically yelled at him “are you serious?!” when he told me Blue Cross Blue Shield hadn’t paid a cent of my medical expenses because they were less than my deductible. For the rude way I said goodbye when he made it clear that Blue Cross Blue Shield had no intention of paying a cent of my medical expenses. I’m sorry because he’s working a shit job and he’s making shit money and he’s probably got worse insurance than I do, if he’s one of the lucky ones.
Then I call my mother and it comes out in torrents of rage.
My mother tells me not to worry, my parents can always help me with the bill. But it isn't about the money, it's about how, even when you're in pain and you're pissing out your kidneys, you can't go to the doctor without the fear of a bill that's more than your monthly salery. Even if you have insurance. Even if you are one of the lucky ones.
Then it's not even about that anymore, it's about my country. And all the anger that nags every day comes out in hot, furious tears and I yell out my kitchen window: this is a country full of stupid and greedy people. Stupid and greedy people who vote evil and greedy people into power because they think that’s what God wants. This is a country full of people watching friends and family go die in Iraq over non-existent weapons of mass destruction. This is a country full of women who are losing their reproductive rights days by day. This is a country full of people who starve and who suffer and who can’t afford to go to the doctor when they’re hurting.
My mother consoles me with my EU passport. She reminds me of all these years she’s been keeping her Belgian citizenship so that my brother and I have the choice to leave the U.S. and return to Europe if we want or need.
Yes, I can always escape.
I’m one of the lucky ones.