December 08, 2009

Plight of the Uninsured

This is the longest I've ever gone without health insurance, recently surpassing the 10-month unemployed stint between Atlantic Records and Razor & Tie in 2001-2. Unfortunately for me, I've had some weird health problems that have sent me into doctors' offices, not only for office visits that cost $250 a pop, but for tests that command upwards of $400-500 apiece.

With each visit, the nurses, doctors, and billing staffs seem so shocked that I don't have health insurance. They ask me repeatedly for my insurance card, to which now I simply respond with a credit card. They look confused, and then their faces fall. They pity me, but not enough to give me a price break (unlike my dentist, who is a master negotiator).

Now the prescriptions start. I ceased my regular monthly prescriptions over the summer partially because I couldn't afford them anymore, but I've needed a couple new ones in the last month or two to try to treat some bizarre, undiagnosed ailments in my body (not so unusual for a patient with fibromyalgia).

Last night, picking up my prescription from Duane Reade, the pharmacy attendant asks me if I have insurance. I say no and roll my eyes. Then she looks at the form stapled to my prescription, looks up at me quizzically, and says, "It says it was cancelled."

I sigh.

"That's what happens when you quit your job and don't have another one lined up."


"I would think these days you would have a lot of people coming in here without insurance."

The attendant - not a pharmacist herself, but a glorified cashier, somewhat better than the ones up front who are notoriously worse than McDonald's employees - looks down and says quietly, "Not really."

I'm on the attack. "Well, I guess I'm the unluckiest unemployed person in the United States then."

I can't imagine what she says is true, but maybe, in this healthcare crisis, the uninsured are going to public clinics for treatment, or not seeking treatment at all, or just aren't filling their prescriptions. For now, I have the luxury of having some cash at my disposal to pay for medical care - something I should probably prioritize over, say, drinks or dining out or travel. But that may run out soon. And then what will I do?

I asked for insurance from Ultra, since I was going to be there basically full-time for three months or more. They wouldn't give it to me. But the longer I sit at that desk, stagnant in that office chair, breathing in the germs of all the other workers who are practically sitting on my lap, the more I subject myself to needing medical care. I felt safer climbing the rocky peaks of Joshua Tree National Park.

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