Nearly two in the morning folks, final call.
Relative to the following, a date to bear in mind: in 2007, after a thorough review of my application and qualifications, I was awarded complete VA medical benefits.
Good health is not something you can always count on having. About all you can count on is that the unexpected and undesirable will eventually pay a visit. When it does, counting on good luck to pull you through likely won’t amount to much. It’s all fate . . . and timing, Baby.
An ironic twist in fate nearly a decade ago propelled me to champion a cause I never could have imagined at the time would gain overwhelming currency today: healthcare reform.
The last time I had employer-paid health insurance was in 1976. In 1978, when I went into business for myself, I purchased decent coverage in the open market. Even then, for individuals, it was expensive, but a necessity. By the definition of the word, necessity is something one cannot survive without. Later changes in my economic fortunes would teach me lessons that too many Americans were learning: That “necessity” depends 100% on what you can afford, not what you need.
On one of the last spring Friday mornings of the last millennium I began feeling a sense of unease, unwell in my abdomen. I tolerated it until I couldn’t any longer. Around 10:00, the feelings, not yet excruciating by any standard, were sufficient that I drove the few miles to the ER at San Jose’s Good Samaritan Hospital.
Critical to the story is the fact I was the only patient in the waiting room. After completing the required paperwork and describing my symptoms, I was ushered into an examination room where a nurse soon came in to take my vital signs and draw blood. Then I waited. And waited. Then waited some more, until an hour had passed and my symptoms were growing more and more intense.
Finally I returned to the front desk to announce that, unless a doctor was prompt in seeing me, I’d discharge myself. A few minutes later a doctor did show up, and, without having made the least observation, discharged me. Recall this was a Friday. The physician’s discharge note admonished me that “If pain continues, see [your] regular doctor on Monday.”
Later that afternoon, unable to tolerate what had grown to severe pain, I went into the ER at Mountain View’s El Camino Hospital, some 15 miles distant. Within 45 minutes of entering, I was on an OR slab undergoing emergency surgery. My appendix had burst! (Rhetorical Note: Had I followed Good Sam’s physician’s written recommendation, to “. . . see regular doctor on Monday,” the only physician who’d have been checking me out would have been the county coroner.
The irony is that my self-run business was as a California state-licensed and appointed life and health insurance representative for several insurers, yet the best insurance I could afford was a plan with high copays and deductibles.
I was in the hospital for a two weeks. The deadly risk a ruptured appendix poses is sepsis. There’s a lot of really bad stuff that gets released into the bowel compartment of the abdomen. That’s also why the surgical wound does not get sutured shut, but is left to heal from the outside in. For almost two months, I had to visit the surgeon’s office once a week, to have the slowly closing wound reopened and the periphery cauterized with acid.
It was a full six months before I could once again return to work. The medical copays and deductibles I paid via many credit cards. Fortunately, I had excellent credit. That wasn’t the end of it, however. I had joint and equal custody of my two very young sons, and all of us still had to eat, and keep a roof over our heads. Plus there were all the other bills — auto insurance, utilities, etc. Wary of a highly uncertain future, I even used my credit cards to pay off my car loan. Being completely unable to work, the credit cards were the lifeline. I even used one card to make the minimum monthly payments on the others. You do what you have to do.
Once I was able to resume working somewhat, I called each of my creditors to explain my circumstances, to try to secure some relief in minimum payments, perhaps a lowering of the interest rate, anything. I even offered to fax copies of the surgical report, as evidence. Not one was interested in working with me. Not only would none of them work with me while I was striving to get back on my feet - upon learning of my situation, all of them froze my credit line. And all went so far as to raise the interest rate (several, dramatically!) they were charging on my outstanding balances!
For three and a half decades I had built my credit. In three and one-half decades I had not been so much as one day late making my payments; not on rent, not on my mortgage, not on car loans, not on any of my insurances, not on any utility bill, and not on a credit card payment. But my requests were all met with their “final answers.” I followed in 2000 with my own “final answer”: Chapter 7. I have since suffered not a pang of remorse, or guilt. And, were I to find myself in a similar predicament, and had I the chance, I’d do the same thing: wipe the dust of the financial industry from my sandals.
As soon as I found myself without sufficient financial resources I discovered I could not afford the health insurance premiums. Unable to meet them, I was now without health insurance. And, given my now preexisting condition, I simply could not obtain insurance that would not exclude anything that might be presumed by an insurer as remotely related to that preexisting condition; even cardio-pulmonary care, and certainly everything abdominal, would be excluded. Furthermore, the rates for such incredibly inadequate coverage soared to absolute unaffordablity.