To Oppose Health-Care Reform is to Wish Me Dead

03/30/2012 12:20 PM |

The author at 125 pounds, sick without health insurance
  • The author at 125 pounds, sick without health insurance

In the fall of 2009, a doctor told me I had diabetes. The doctor worked at a clinic that used a sliding-scale payment system, which I’d visited because I didn’t have health insurance. In fact, even though I ended every work day barely able to trudge to the subway; and couldn’t sleep a night through because of piercing leg cramps; and was pissing the bed; and had lost 60 pounds, I waited nine months before I made a doctor’s appointment. It just didn’t seem like something I could do, uninsured as I was. And it’s amazing how quickly you can convince yourself that being sick is normal.

I was working two part-time jobs that barely kept me in my apartment. How could I afford to treat a chronic illness? The doctor at the clinic prescribed me a mid-cost insulin—not the best treatment, he said, but the best in my price range. It was about $55 a bottle, and would last roughly a month; a box of syringes cost another $25. I had to buy a blood-sugar testing machine (a one-time expense), plus a supply of testing strips (a chronic expense), plus the lancets used to prick your finger, plus alcohol swabs to keep me from catching an infection. I have to resupply these things regularly, for the rest of my life. Diabetes isn’t cheap.

Yet for all its cost, the insulin treatment was almost as bad as the untreated disease. My blood sugar was constantly too low—one of the worst feelings I’ve experienced in my short life, and I had it all the time. I couldn’t think, I was sore, I was feverish and sweaty, and sometimes my knees gave out. Once I fainted; other times, I just felt on the brink of doing so. It was a horrible few months, and I cringe to think about it now. If circumstance forced me back on that treatment plan, I might kill myself instead.

Fortunately, that decision remains a hypothetical. The L Magazine put me on its health insurance plan, allowing me to afford a two-insulin treatment much better suited to me and the demands of my work and life. With co-pays these insulins cost me $40; without, they would together cost $284, far more than I could afford monthly. Diabetes is still expensive, still a burden financially and emotionally and in terms of my health, but at least I can sort of manage it.

Of course, as a diabetic, the health insurance industry wants nothing to do with me.

4 Comment

  • Great account of what it’s like to go through our health system.
    For a good explanation of why the individual mandate is, if anything, more constitutional than the taxes we already pay, see this article: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archiv…

  • It isn’t possible under Obamacare to offer everyone with a preexisting condition private health insurance unless those who are young and healthy also get struck paying because, otherwise, insurance companies would charge such high premiums that it would be more than what some of us make, even though I read it would only mean about a 10 percent dip in their already huge profits. But it is wrong to force people to buy from a corporation. It would not be wrong to have a payroll tax on all employees and employers and the self-employed to cover a single-payer plan, with the well-off also buying from private insurance companies if they want the best. But since the government really doesn’t care about the people and only serves corporations, that won’t happen and nothing will be done. Administration costs for private insurance are about 33%, while administration costs for Medicare are about 3%. When we got Medicare in the ’60s, one of the reasons there was such a demand for it was that insurance companies wouldn’t cover seniors. Insurers don’t want to and often won’t (unless you are lucky enough to be under an employer’s plan) cover people with preexisting conditions. So the obvious answer should be to make Medicare and a supplemental policy, maybe through Tricare for Life (the military program), available for purchase for those with preexisting conditions and include the kind of enrollment requirements these programs use to discourage the few who do try to freeload the system by not buying insurance until they need it (and that isn’t the huge problem that the Right makes it out to be). Even if by some miracle the Court doesn’t strike down the law, probably Obamacare wasn’t really going to cover most people with preexisting conditions anyway. The law was written by the insurance industry and is probably loaded with catch-22s (such as companies like Walmart can opt out, and employers can deny coverage to some of their sicker employees. My insurance provider said they expect some of the requirements would be eliminated. Sure, he said, people with preexisting conditions might be able to get coverage after 2014, but would they be able to afford it?). Even if the government said it would help people pay for the high cost of insurance, somehow sooner than later, we’d be told that there isn’t money to help you. Just sift through garbage cans for food and live in cardboard boxes under a bridge, if you must, just pay those premiums or a huge fine. You must feed the greedy insurance companies, because they obviously own Obama. Sure, allowing those with preexisting conditions–the people who need it most–to have insurance won’t solve everything. Costs would still rise. There would still be too many people using the emergency room, and oh by the way, that’s more likely to be people on Medicaid because they can’t find a doctor to take them, rather than the uninsured. So Obama’s plan to expand Medicaid isn’t the answer either. And PCIP, what a joke that is. You can only get it if you haven’t had insurance for at least six months. You can only get state high-risk insurance (if your state even has it and there’s not a waiting list) if you pay for at least six months while they don’t cover the condition you need insurance for even if you have had insurance all your life. Since about half the people have a preexisting condition and most people will be developing one and employers (who are often self-insured) love to weed out, or fire, the sick employees), you too may soon find yourself in this frightening situation.

  • Henry-I think you’re fantastic. Very brave (and helpful) of you to share your story. I remember sitting on the (L) train two plus years ago when I read your first article about being sick, and it put a lot of things in perspective for me-I too was struggling through several part-time jobs (and my first semester of grad school), and I remember thinking, well, at least it is not a life or death situation for me.

    So terrible we live in country where health insurance is a luxury for many (especially those who really need it).

    But so glad you got your medicine! Stay well and keep sharing!

  • Wow, that sucks. Sorry to hear about that ordeal.