Financially Naked

January 13, 2010 at 6:47 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Amid the chaos generated during this year’s healthcare reform debate, all the attention focused on those lacking health insurance. I heard nothing about those who have insurance coverage and still find themselves financially naked when in need of health care. Recently, a family friend recounted the following experience that I believe resonates throughout America’s working class:

Our friend, I shall call her Maya, has worked 30 years as a secretary for a county legal agency. Her gross income was once in the mid-thirty-thousands but during this past year budget cuts have forced her to endure two pay cuts totaling 20%, along with a forced furlough without pay of 4 hours per week. From her plummeting income, she pays $250 per month out of her paycheck for health insurance. She is divorced and she and her 8 year-old daughter live in a comfortable but small suburban home.

Nine months ago, her daughter was helping wash dishes when a glass broke and gashed her hand in a one inch line from just under the little finger into the palm. It was bleeding “like a fountain,” so Maya wrapped a dishtowel around the wound and rushed her daughter to the nearby “urgent care” facility.

Once there, Maya wrote a check for the required $75 co-pay before her daughter could begin the 45 minute wait for treatment. Maya adds the detail that she didn’t actually have the $75 dollars in her checking account but hoped to borrow the money and get it into the bank before the check arrived for payment. Anyway, after 45 minutes a nurse took Maya & the little girl into a room for treatment. The nurse relieved the bloody hand of its towel, rinsed it with water, quickly wrapped the hand in gauze, and told Maya that the hand needed stitches. However, to Maya’s surprise, the urgent care does not do stitches, so the girl need to be taken across town to the childrens’ hospital. No part of the $75 co-pay was refunded.

So Maya set off to the hospital emergency room, where she was made to pay another $100 co-pay up-front before treatment. Then began a 6 hour wait until her daughter got 5 stitches.

Later, the hospital bills arrived. Maya’s share of the expenses after the co-pays came to $540.62!!! It took her 9 months to finish paying these bills.

Someone, I forget who, pointed-out that Americans don’t need health insurance they need health care. In its present form, health insurance coverage very often is of little or no actual help. Fifty percent of bankruptcies are caused by medical bills and 68% of those bankruptcies are people with medical insurance. Many times I take solace from those fact when I become frightened of having no health insurance.

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