Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Healthcare Crisis Hits (My) Home

Every time I hear someone yakking about how a national health care system would be SO terrible, it will RUIN everything, blah blah blah, I have always wanted to punch them in the face. With a brick. And then let them figure out how to get it fixed without relying on health insurance. Since becoming a parent, I have realized that it would be far more effective to round up the children of all those blustering politicians and well-fed middle-class buttholes, lock them in a room with some sharp objects, very tall climbing structures, fungus-infested bedding, a few viruses, and some food contaminated with E. coli, then ask their parents to pay out-of-pocket for any medical care they may need when they come out of that room. Because I have had many small heart attacks (and some whopping panic/creeping doom attacks) in the past year, and they are all related to the health and safety of our child.

Probably the worst tangible effect of our exodus from California was the loss of our (not that bad, comparatively speaking) health insurance, which we got at no cost through my husband's former job. We paid out-of-pocket for an appointment or two over the summer (like my 6-week post-partum checkup and Piper's two-month well child visit) and managed to secure state-funded health insurance for Piper after that. Ryan and I went without. We told ourselves it would be okay as soon as he got another teaching job, because jobs mean health insurance in this country. So when he did get the post in North Carolina, there was more than one reason why we breathed a sigh of relief. That relief turned to horror when Ryan called from his new digs to inform me that while he was covered under the North Carolina State Employees' Health Plan free of charge, it would be a minimum of $520 per month to buy even the cheapest, crappiest plan for Piper and me.

First I was shell-shocked. Five hundred dollars? REALLY? How do they expect people to pay that? It's nearly twice our car payment, and as much as a mortgage payment for some people. Then I was angry. He's a teacher, a job which is not known for being at the high end of the pay scale, having great perks, or being a low-stress situation. All that suckitude and they can't even make sure teachers' families can at least go to the doctor? He asked around, and it turns out we were not the first people to have these reactions, or to be potentially unable to afford the premiums.

We decided to pursue other options, which we have been doing in various forms ever since, and are still unable to bring the issue to a close. Piper and I are still without coverage. We've looked at dozens of online sites, which has resulted in my e-mail and phone being spammed by various spam-bots and one rather nasty asshat of salesman. We asked the carrier of our home and auto insurance, and they do have health plans, but those, like all the other options we've looked at, are going to cost us a small fortune.

I get hung up on a few things every time I try to go over this stuff:

1. I used to work in health care, and dealt with a lot of this, so I can at least wade through and understand some of the jargon. I used to get exasperated with people who couldn't understand how their health insurance worked; turns out I was just spoiled. Most of these plans involve a fair amount of calculations, caveats, conditions, and restrictions. Which really add up to "we are going to collect enormous premiums from you and still pay out nothing."

2. We are getting insurance because we need to have basic preventative services covered - that's all we ever use it for. Things like my yearly gyn exam, and Piper's well baby visits and shots. It would also be nice if I could get some birth control, but I can always go to Planned Parenthood and buy in bulk if I need to. But a significant number of the plans do not cover preventative services for the first twelve months. Wha-haaa? How does that make sense? "Hey, you're paying us all this money every month, but unless you are missing a limb, don't go to the doctor. You should totally wait until your cervical cancer/your baby's bowleggedness/that hacking cough are totally out-of-control conditions and will require lots of expensive treatment." One of the plans actually said "routine screenings (i.e. "check-ups" are not covered." Why would I pay $400 a month for something that will be TOTALLY USELESS to me for the first year?

3. I have had EVERY SINGLE agent/representative/salesperson we've talked to tell me "well, you're young and healthy, and the baby is healthy, so you shouldn't have to use it much. I mean, unless something happens, there's no reason for you to go into the hospital or anything, because you're young and healthy." At which point my husband usually has to stop me from standing on the salesperson's desk and screaming "THEN WHAT AM I PAYING YOU PEOPLE FOR?!"

"What am I paying you people for?" is really my prevailing sentiment about all this. So far, even the cheapest plan we've looked at will be $320 a month - PLUS a $3200 deductible that must be paid out before they will pay for anything. So, we will be $7040 in the hole every year before they start paying for things, and even then there's a $35 copay for office visits and $35/$50 copays for prescriptions. That $7040 is not much less than a year's worth of mortgage payments. We could be buying a second house for what this will cost. And if "something should happen" we'd still have to pay out a coinsurance which would amount to multiple thousands more dollars. So what are we paying them for again, exactly?

Truthfully, I don't think we spend $7040 in a year on healthcare. Maybe last year, yeah, what with having a baby by c-section and all, but since every single plan we've looked at (including the one offered through Ryan's work) charges an additional - rather hefty - charge for maternity coverage (which cannot be added to a plan after you are pregnant, you have to have it in place a certain amount of time before the pregnancy), we can't have any more babies anyway. Not that we were going to (and certainly not right now), but this insurance shit has taken the option off the table. Which, even though I don't feel like I want another one, annoys me just the same.

I'm exploring a low-cost children's plan through the state for Piper; from what I can tell we're over the income limit to qualify for straight Medicaid for both of us. Hopefully we can get her on this low-cost plan and I'll just have to do without. We are looking at taking a couple hundred dollars every month and putting it away in a HSA if we can, and failing that, a regular savings account. Because even with the insurance, I wouldn't be able to afford going to the doctor, so at least this way if "something should happen" we won't be counting on some insurance company to pay for something they're probably not going to pay for anyway.

I have started to cry more than a few times while looking at our options. They all suck, I am just having trouble trying to decide which one will suck the least. And when I look at the varieties of expensive suckiness available to us, I start to cry. I have stacks of brochures and charts with big fat teardrops staining them. I don't know how people afford this; I don't know why our president keeps telling us there's no problem with the way healthcare works in this country. None of which helps me right this minute. So I sit with my stack of charts and graphs and glossy, useless brochures and cry.

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