Saturday, June 30, 2007

it could happen to you, too

I've just returned from a screening of Sicko and I am convinced that this should be mandatory viewing for everyone in this country. If you've ever worked for a living, if you've ever had the comfort of health insurance, if you are a part of the vast American middle class, lower to upper, please see this documentary.

If you think you don't have to worry about health concerns, you may change your mind. I never worried either, not until my husband got sick. I've talked about his ailments before and I won't go into them again, but I want to clarify, for all of you working folks, that Mike and I worked too. Together, we had a very comfortable life, financially secure, no worries. Our house was paid off. We had health insurance, life insurance, dental, vision. We owned stock, mutual funds, cash accounts. We collected investment quality antiques. We were in every way, the two of us, far better off financially than many of our friends and people with whom we worked. No kids at home, two nice incomes. American dream.

Mike got so sick he couldn't work and we lost the bigger portion of our monthly income. No worries, I said, I'll do something else and I started a business. By the time he couldn't work, we were looking at medical bills of around $8,000 ~ not too bad, we had savings. The bills mounted as his condition deteriorated.

We had the best policy offered by the State of Oklahoma, a preferred provider plan, a blessing. But we had co-pays. They don't seem like much when you see the doctor once every six months or once a year. But those co-pays begin to add up when you're seeing the doc almost daily, when new meds are prescribed at least weekly, when tests and exams and treatments are being conducted constantly and every new encounter ~ doctor, hospital, pharmacy ~ requires another co-pay.

It was okay, though. There was a cap on the yearly out of pocket ~ $3500 for pharmacy and $6000 for hospital and, well, no cap on the doctor visits but those were only $25 a pop, and oops! that test isn't included in the out of pocket and, well, this test is not approved by the insurance company. ER visits were never less than $1800 except the single time he was admitted to the hospital. We were seeing the docs 3-4 times a week, and then there were the drugs. The most expensive drugs weren't approved for payment under the formulary. The $1400 monthly for interferon and ribavirin wasn't covered because the combination was considered experimental. It was the only treatment for one of his worst ailments, and yet it was experimental.

My health insurance was paid by my agency; Mike's was $440 a month. I'll break it down a little, these monthly expenses:

$ 440 for health insurance
$1400 for unapproved meds
$ 680 for approved meds with co-pays
$ 400 minimum co-pays for office visits
$ 300 average co-pays for various treatments, hospital stays, ER tx and the like

That's over $3000 a month for medical bills alone and we were insured. Some months were worse, some were better. With less than half of our usual income, it was a disaster in the making. I refinanced the house we'd paid off the year before he became ill. Most of it went to medical bills. I started a business and it was an instant success. I had extra money from the business to put toward medical bills, but I was working 80 hours a week. I sold stock I'd had forever and put it toward the ever increasing costs. This went on for almost five years, bills and bills and bills and bills.

People said "you're lucky you could start a business and have it do so well." Other people said "wow, you were lucky you had your house paid off." Lucky. Yes, I was lucky. Really, I believe that. But how much luckier I'd have been if I'd lived in a country where my husband's care would have been assured, where it wouldn't have driven us nearly to bankruptcy to try to make him well, where I wouldn't have had to work two full time jobs to keep up, all the while worrying about him and grieving and tending to his needs. Yes, I was lucky that I had the energy to work like that. I was lucky that my business went so well. I was lucky to have good credit and lots of it, and I am lucky that I've just finished paying off over $35,000 in credit card bills from that awful time. Lucky, too, that the money borrowed on the house is nearly paid back and I almost really own my home again. Lucky, lucky, lucky. That's me.

I am lucky, of course, because my husband is stable and doing so well. He did not die and I've got a lot of years left in me, and I've been able to get out from under this debt again. We're starting to do the things we used to do ~ travel, saving for retirement, saving for college for the grandkids. But lucky as I am, I worry about the next time. What if, God forbid, I could not work? We'd be out of luck because Mike can't work any longer and could not do for me what I did for him.

Michael Moore's Sicko is about people just like us. It is heartbreaking and infuriating and if it doesn't make you angry and fired up and ready to work toward revolutionizing healthcare in this country, nothing will. Please go see this film. It is important. It speaks to every one of us, all of us regular folks, the vast majority of American citizens who are working, living our lives, trying to make it and do well in life. Doing well in this country is an illusion until we have universal health care. All it takes is one illness, one injury, an accident, and it can happen to any one of us. I feel as strongly about this as I've ever felt about anything. It's an opportunity we have right now to change this system, to make our voices heard, to practice compassion for everyone, to take away the constant worry for those of us who have lived through a health crisis.

It's not going to come from our politicians. Of the current crop of presidential candidates, only three Republicans even mention health care on their websites, and those three are looking for private solutions, the very private solutions that have taken us to this point. The Democrats are little better, with only Kucininch proposing single payer insurance for every American citizen. Congress is owned by the health care lobby, so if there's any way out of the disastrous place we're in now, it is going to come from us.

I am enough of a rah-rah cheerleader for my country and my people that I don't believe there's anything we can't do if we put our minds to it. Universal single payer health care is good government, it is good policy, it is compassionate, and caring, the right thing to do. Let's do it. Start by seeing Sicko.

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Blogger Red7Eric said...

I can't wait to see this movie. I don't think any Presidential candidates will be able to get elected in '08 without some serious strategies about the broken health care system in this country ...

... and we'll have Michael Moore to thank for that. Good on ya, Mikey!!

June 30, 2007 11:18 PM  
Blogger evilganome said...

I have had my own problems with bad health, no insurance and now bad credit, and huge bills that are not getting paid.

Mitt Romney introduced his new mandatory insurance policy which is providing sub-standard coverage for the residents of the Commonwealth and forcing people to pay for some sort of insurance.

We had a state program that provided free care for the poorest and then a graduated co-pay system as you moved up the economic ladder.

I will be interested to see how this situation plays out and how it will affect small businesses that are now required to provide coverage for businesses with over 10 employees. It's a huge mess and promises to get messier, there are predictions that there could be a mass exodus of low income people from the state. All this in the name of keeping people, most who paid for state assisted care through their taxes from getting a "free ride".

If this jerk is elected president I will leave the country. It will be a final proof to me that America is so addicted to wishful thinking that they can no longer deal with reality.

July 01, 2007 6:09 AM  
Blogger Debbi said...

Not a single theatre in my state (West Virginia) is showing "Sicko." The nearest place I can see it is Raleigh, NC, and I'll probably make the trip next weekend.

Physicians for a National Health Program [] has been working for health care reform for more than two decades. My husband [a psychiatrist] and I are active in this group and in our local chapter, and urge everyone to visit their website, learn what is possible, campaign for forward-thinking political candidates and for campaign finance reform. As long as drug and insurance money elect our public officals, we'll not see any significant improvement in this country's very broken system.

July 01, 2007 6:21 AM  
Anonymous Tater said...

Please e-mail this post as an open letter to every major newspaper or organization you can think of. It was just incredibly well written, well said, and carries a strong emotional punch. I am completely serious. Your personal account packs a wallup, and should be read by a much wider audience than you can reach here. Consider it please?

We are going to see Sicko today, it was sold out last night (thank god). Jim and I have been experiencing our own version of this nightmare for the last two years, and it is taking a toll on us. He is unable to work, and our finacial reserves have been depleted, but are now starting to hold steady (another thank God). I can only thank God because our system is broken, and our "leaders" are being paid off to ignore our individual disasters. If this issue gets ignored again this election, I just may be your new neighbor in Costa Rica. Perhaps we could all learn French and start a commune over there.

July 01, 2007 9:56 AM  
Blogger p.alan said...

I agree with Tater, Lynette. So poignant and candid a response should be read by the masses. Forward it to every major paper.

I only fear that many will not like Universal health care when they realize that their 75 year old Dad will NOT get that life saving operation. And that each one of us will be limited, still, in some way by what ails us and how old we are.

July 01, 2007 12:09 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Yes. Please consider sending it. Your post speaks for so many, and is an "everyman" account, people wouldn't blow it off like, "well, that's a really unique situation, not applicable to the Average American,". This needs to be heard.

and count me in for the commune.

July 01, 2007 3:07 PM  
Blogger TankMontreal said...

It's happened to you: You've been tagged. Maybe you want to introduce a little levity back into your blog. Or not. 'Sup to you.

July 01, 2007 5:03 PM  
Anonymous Sewing Siren said...

Can you imagine how corrupt the police and fire departments would be if you had to pay them directly for their services?

July 01, 2007 7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow... you were, like... one bad step off the kerb away from a total financial catastrophe... I don't know how Americans can put up with that. They have so much backbone for standing up to tyrants abroad, but not at home...

July 01, 2007 7:26 PM  
Anonymous Randy said...

I can't wait to see the movie. Hopefully, will see it 4th of July. So glad I found your blog, I've been reading your comments on Joe.My.God for a while now.

Thanks for sharing your story about your medical past. So glad your husband is doing better.

July 01, 2007 8:20 PM  
Blogger justelise said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog. I just wanted to say that your blog entry on Sicko is an eloquently written example of the problems that Michael Moore is trying to expose in the movie. Not many people realize how widespread the problems with insurance companies are, and stories like yours are what the public needs to see. I agree with the other people who have encouraged you to publicize your story and send it to government officials. The more attention given to our health care crisis the better.

July 01, 2007 9:33 PM  
Blogger lisalgreer said...

I cried and cried at the end of this movie. I agree; everyone should see it. I have parents right now who pay $700/month for their health insurance. They are in their 50s and healthy... and are now on meds that cost $90/month. But guess what? They always vote Repub. We have to fight for this... for universal healthcare. I really hope this movie wakes people up. I will do my part... and I hope everyone will.

July 01, 2007 10:50 PM  

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