The problem of 47 million uninsured Americans gets personal.

I’m sitting in the chair watching the morning news this morning with about ten minutes to go before I leave for work when the phone rings. It’s odd to get a call that early in the day and it’s a cell phone number so I pick it up. The voice on the other end informs me that it’s Courtney’s bus driver and that they’re at the school and could I please come pick her up because she’s vomited twice and is complaining of severe pain on her left side so bad she can’t walk.

It’s the sort of phone call that makes every parent’s heart stop.

I tell them I’ll be there immediately and hang up the phone. I wake Anne and tell her to get dressed quickly because I’m going to need her help in figuring out where the hell to take Courtney once I get there. While she’s getting some clothes thrown on I collect my cell phones (personal and work) and head out to the car to get it started and warmed up. When Anne joins me she says the school called again and they managed to get Courtney inside to the office using a wheelchair they had on hand. My mind is a swirl of competing thoughts all the way to the school. These include everything to what might possibly be wrong (she didn’t seem ill the night before, she didn’t say anything to us before leaving this morning), what clinic is close enough to take her to at minimum risk, how serious is the problem (life threatening? should I have had an ambulance called?), and not least of all how the fuck am I going to pay for whatever needs to be done? We’ve been playing the odds for over almost three years now as I’ve only held a job that offered affordable health insurance briefly in that time—the two and a half months I was back at Ford Motor Company in 2006—and the odds have finally caught up to us.

For her part, Courtney seemed to be doing pretty well by the time we got to her school and she was as bewildered as we were as to what the hell was going on. Despite her feeling almost back to normal we took her to a local Urgent Care clinic and they did a urinalysis, an x-ray, and drew some blood for lab tests. Their first thought was that she might have a kidney stone, in part because there was a good amount of blood in her urine, but they couldn’t see anything on the x-ray. So they called up St. Joseph Hospital and arranged for her to have a CT scan immediately after we finished up at the clinic. They said they’d get the results and then call us and let us know what was going on and probably have us come back in tomorrow morning. We’ve not heard back yet on what the results of the CT scan were or the blood work. For the moment she’s on a clear liquid diet until we hear otherwise from the doctor.

We are, of course, paying for all of this out of pocket.  The Urgent Care clinic was less expensive than I expected it to be, about $153 for the visit and the x-ray, though I’m wondering if they forgot to include the blood work in that cost. The CT scan is likely to be a different story. The estimate on that is around the $1,800 mark, but we won’t know for sure for at least a week until the bill comes in the mail. There’s going to be further follow up treatment of some sort or another as well and there’s no way to guess what those costs might add up to. However at the moment it’s looking like it’s going to wipe out what little we’ve still got in our savings which has already taken a hit from expenses related to my own need to have a couple of teeth removed last fall, some needed auto repairs, and expenses related to Courtney’s last year in high school. The whole event was—still is—stressful enough to begin with and when you add in the fact that you’re consciously making decisions like whether or not it’s serious enough that an ambulance should be called because you know it’s going to cost you an arm and a leg if you make use of one then that just ratchets the stress level up that much more.

It goes without saying that whatever Courtney needs I’ll find a way to get it and worry about paying for it later, but I can’t help and think about how much less of a problem this would be if I still had my old job with the decent health insurance. It makes me feel like I’ve let my family down even though the conditions of my lay-off were beyond my control at the time. It also reminds me of another family member who died because she didn’t have adequate health insurance. That could’ve been my daughter and not my cousin. Fortunately Courtney should recover from this just fine once we nail down what the hell it is exactly and figure out how to deal with it.

How we’ll pay for it will be a problem to be solved as we go along.

Update: The clinic called us back just before 8PM this evening. The CT scan was negative and the doctors think it’s a bad case of constipation. They mentioned constipation after seeing the x-rays, but they weren’t sure if that was the primary cause or a secondary thing. Now they’re saying it’s the primary cause. I was unaware that being badly constipated could result in blood in your urine, but apparently it can. They told us to put her on a laxative for the night and if things didn’t improve within a couple of hours then to move up to a boxed enema and if that didn’t work then we’d need to bring her in in the morning. Needless to say I’ve never seen my daughter so eager to have a laxative work. So we’ve got her drinking water even when she says she’s not thirsty and we let her eat a bit of oatmeal for dinner and we’re hoping for the best.

36 thoughts on “The problem of 47 million uninsured Americans gets personal.

  1. For that kind of money, I could understand people taking their chances not getting stuff checked, or not being able to. Flat rates hit the poorest worst, and illness is not something you can usually plan for, it’s not your fault…

  2. That is indeed some scary shit right there.  Here’s hoping everything works out for the best.  Hope Courtney is at least feeling a bit better and it ends up being nothing serious.

    This is actually something that has been on my mind as well recently as my girlfriend lives with me and as her father passed away this past year and her mother has not been in the picture for 10+ years, I’m essentially her lone provider (besides what she brings in herself from working).  We were both quite sick recently and since she’s not covered under my insurance which I have through my work, we were constantly questioning whether or not to actually take her to see a doctor.  Plus, a local radio host recently talked about his fiance’s hospital bills totaled up to $20000+ for an appendicitis.  That was a real eye openner and was quite a scary thought to consider.

  3. Hope everything goes well, Les.

    I’ve never been without really good coverage above and beyond what Canada already covers. I’m glad for that every time I get the sniffles, but this sure pounds it home.

    Slip your Paypal link quietly into the sidebar again, would you? I know you don’t like to, but you are running a magazine here…

  4. I hope everything turns out alright, Les.  keep your chin up, and keep looking for something better.  I assume that you have already checked into any government or charity help that may be available in your area.

    It’s incredible to me that people are just starting to see how useless our healthcare system has become for the non-rich.  There are many reasons, but there is no denying that the situation has gotten worse.

    For some perspective:  My grandparents raised seven children, bought a house and two cars, and had reasonable access to healthcare, all on minimum wage jobs(janitor/truckdriver and waitress.)  My parents are above minimum wage, having some skills.  They were able to raise two relatively spoiled kids, buy a modest house, two cars, and as kids my sister and I always had access to healthcare.  As my parents age, they are experiencing reductions in coverage and will end up no better off than their parents were as seniors. 
    I am an unskilled worker making $1.50 per hour above minimum wage.  I have had only ONE job (unionized grocery store) that offered good insurance coverage.  My current employer is willing to cover up to $100 per month toward insurance coverage.(whoopee!)  If my girlfriend and I want decent coverage for medical and dental, it would cost us 20-40% of our current income.  Not gonna happen.
    To make things even more fun, my girlfriend has mild-to-medium severity asthma.  It was treatable with over-the-counter Primatene inhalers, which are now off the market because a couple of speedfreak supermodels died from overuse.  She now has to get a prescription for even the weakest asthma medication.  Because of more fake, overhyped worry about meth addiction/production, she only gets ONE refill per prescription, even though the medicine is reasonably safe and it’s a chronic condition.  What used to be a $10 inhaler now costs $30 and requires a trip to the doctor and a trip to the pharmacy.  If she uses the inhaler more than usual and empties it too quickly(happens every fall and spring) the pharmacy refuses to refill it without another o.k. from her doctor, requiring another office visit.  We could never afford this on our own, especially while she’s still in school and working only part-time, so she is now on what is known as CMSP, our county healthcare program.  She has to reapply every 12 weeks, requiring another trip to the county seat 20 miles away, and an hour or two waiting for an available caseworker. 
    All for $10.00 worth of asthma medication. 
    I am pissed at liberals for over-protecting us and driving up the cost and red tape.  I am super-pissed at conservatives who would rather watch a family die in the street than be expected to help anyone, and then pile on even more red tape to make sure we’re not crackheads working the system, and wasting even more of our time to punish us for being needy.
    I am pissed most of all at my fellow Americans, who would sooner pour every cent this country has into destroying the middle-east and enriching oil and arms companies, rather than simply vote with their own interests at heart.

    And this is in an area generous enough to even have a county health plan.  As much of a drag as it is, without it, we would probably be hip deep in staggering medical bills.  Forced onto welfare for access to $10 worth of decades-old technology.  Only in America.

    Sorry to rant, Les.  Having some skills, you have at least a chance to do better than you are now, no matter how bad the economy gets.  Keep at it and good luck, and my best wishes to Courtney.

  5. My fingers will be crossed for Courtney and if I see the bat signal (a.k.a PayPal), I will be more than happy to give something.

    Note:  Frac beat me to the mention!

  6. Les, I know just what it’s like to have a child fall ill suddenly. My youngest took a turn for the worst when on holiday a couple of years ago. He was in severe pain and looked like ‘death warmed up’ as we say over here. It turned out to be acute appendicitis and he was operated on that same day.

    Now here’s the thing: this happened in Northern Ireland (we were visiting my parents at the time) and he was seen by a doctor, tested, brought to hospital in an ambulance, operated on by one of the hospital’s top surgeons, given a private room with TV and all facilities, and observed for several days after the operation.

    Total cost to me was zilch, nada, nothing – apart from the huge bouquet of flowers and the box of chocolates that I bought for the nurses. I am SO glad we have the National Health Service, paid for from taxes. It really surprised me, and still surprises me to this day, that the richest nation on earth does not have the same.

    Some might think it quite socialist, but hey, everyone, rich or poor, republican or democrat, has the same chance of falling ill. It is the mark of a truely civilised country, that healthcare is provided for all, from cradle to grave, no questions asked.

    You are right that something MUST be done. I haven’t seen SICKO yet, but I hope it mobilises the country to change the system, and I hope that your Democrat pollies have the courage to push the healthcare agenda forward.

    I so hope Courtney gets well soon and that you find a way to get the money. If you put the PayPal up again I will make a donation. Best wishes to you all.

  7. I feel at least a bit of your pain.  I’m unemployed and living off ramen until I find a new job.  I’ve had jaw pains keeping me up at night for a couple weeks now, but I sure as hell can’t afford to fix that in the mean time.

    Good luck to you and your family, and I hope everything turns out well.

  8. Tom: Some might think it quite socialist, but hey, everyone, rich or poor, republican or democrat, has the same chance of falling ill. It is the mark of a truely civilised country, that healthcare is provided for all, from cradle to grave, no questions asked

    Anything other than outright privitisation must be COMMUNISM in the eyes of quite a lot of easily influenced people. It seems only anti nazi-ism gives some people caution about going all the way to the far right, I think much of the UK and US hasn’t really seen the effects of attrocious opression and massacre in recent living memory (9/11 is far too small in comparison), so they still desire to make the mistake they havn’t yet learned from

  9. I’ve worked for hospitals and doctors for over 20 years.  Currently I work for a radiology group.  When you get your bills, be sure to check for uninsured discounts – we offer 40% off, which is still 60% more than some folks have, but it’s a start.  Also, if she’s hospitalized, or if the clinics are part of a group, sometimes they have a program for lower income, unemployed or uninsured patients that will write off a certain percentage of your bill.

    Even though I work for a health care group, I’m the only family member that carries insurance – I pay 23.00 per pay period for myself, but the family would up that to 250.00 per pay period.  For the past two years that my husband has been in college, he and our son have had no coverage.  On my salary alone, we’d qualify for medical assistance, but in Minnesota, if your employer offers a plan that covers at least 50% of the costs, you can’t even get Minnesota Care for your family.  My job covers, I think, 52% of the cost, so we’ve paid out of pocket for checkups, shots, emergency medical, etc. for two years.  My husband has been without for longer, because at my previous job I could add one family member for an extra 150 a month, and we figured it was more vital for the kid to have coverage.  My husband has quite a few health concerns that we are unable to really address, because we can’t afford it.  And don’t even start me on dental – we have dental coverage, and still owe about 2000.00 to our dentist.  That, or be unable to chew.

    Dude, I feel your pain.  Good luck to you, be sure to ask for any advantage you can get in getting parts of it either written off or discounted.

  10. Thanks for mentioning that info, DaBroad.  I forgot about discounts.  The local hospital here koncks off 50% for the uninsured if you pay the bill within 30 days.  There is also a small(pitifully small) charity group attached to the hospital which sometimes helps(meagerly) with the rest of the bill.  Families tend to get a lot more help than singles, but it varies quite a bit state to state, county to county. 
      As I said before, I assume Les has already investigated the government or charity help available in his area.  I know it can be a humiliating, unempowering experience, but if your kid needs help, pride has no place in the discussion.  The only reason to refuse is if the care is worse than no care at all(see Los Angeles free clinics if you don’t believe it can be worse.)

  11. I’m sorry to hear about Courtney and I hope she is better soon.  To reaffirm what was mentioned before, definitely check into uninsured/unemployed programs.  I was out of work for nearly a year and had an overnight stay in the hospital for vomiting blood during an exciting battle with kidney stones.  The hospital ended up forgiving 100% of my $4000+ bill.  I ended up only paying a couple hundred for lab work which was billed separately.

  12. I’ve updated the main entry with the latest status, but I’ll also mention it here. Turns out the CT scan was negative and the doctors think it’s a severe case of constipation. They had mentioned seeing that she was constipated on the x-ray, but they weren’t sure if that was the primary or a secondary issue. I wasn’t aware that being badly constipated can lead to blood in your urine though I was aware that it can cause some bad pains. We’ve got her on a laxative and we’re making her drink plenty of water so hopefully this will do the trick by the time the morning rolls around.

    Thank you all for the advice and well wishes. It’s much appreciated. I’ve put the PayPal and buttons back up as some of you have requested, though it’s looking like this crisis won’t be as crushing as it first appeared. I appreciate the help if you still feel like tossing a couple of bucks my way, but please don’t feel like it’s expected of you.

  13. I couldn’t cope with that- seeing my child sick, and having to worry about money.  I hate it when politicians start talking about a ‘fairer’ system with compulsory insurance. WHAT THE FUCK DO THEY THINK THE TAX IS- VOLUNTARY.  Insurance companies can only be ‘cheaper’ than State funding because they don’t offer CheneyCare.

  14. I am glad Courtney got what she needed. Some facilities will not order expensive tests for the uninsured unless the illness/injury is life threatening. Also, you lucked out that it is nothing serious, because had she been diagnosed with something, you could have gotten excellent health coverage the next day and it wouldn’t have helped you.

    Our system is dangerous.

  15. A CAT scan is HOW MUCH??? Damn, I never knew. Had at least one done and in Germany, that never showed up on MY bill. Even that may have changed since, but…

    Sent you a little donation, Les, as much as was left in my paypal account. As long as people like me have a job that pays well and has insurance, we can at least help people like you who don’t. Stealth communism! Fear us, right wingers!

    On that note, do other people feel that paypals interface is getting crappier over time? Couldn’t even give a comment to go along with my donation. And fixing the amount was a pain too (my account uses Euros, but your receiving account has US Dollars – and I had to try several times to ‘zero in’ on what was left in my account).

    Anyway, congrats on the apparently lucky scrape (at least in non-monetary terms) with Courtney.

  16. Hope your daughter gets better soon.

    It’s not perfect, but I do like our National Health Service. I hope the USA gets something like it soon.

    Enjoy the donation, the currency conversion gives good dollars for the pound, so I hope every little helps. You’ve kept me entertained for a while now, so it’s the least I can do in return.


  17. Les,

    DUDE! Your PayPal link is broken! It only takes me to the PayPal main page… either that or I am totally frakked up tongue laugh NOOOOOOOOOoooooo…

    In all seriousness, though, nothing but best wishes to you and yours. I have been in deep medical debt, too, so I know the pain.

    Now, are you gonna allow me to prove that the human race does not deserve to get hit with a GRB or what?

    What is your PayPal addy? TELL ME NOW OR I’LL P R A Y FOR YOU!

  18. Hi Les:  Sorry to hear of your situation and am glad Courtney is feeling better.  I remember when I was canned from the government I converted my group “CareFirst” to a private policy.  Because of my pre-existing condition, my premiums went up to $25K/year after a while.  Had to drop it.  Who could afford that?

    Here is a list of a few aid agencies you might look into.

    Hope this helps!


  19. All the best to Courtney, and to coping with the bills, Les.  Being self-employed, my healthcare payments are pretty stiff here- around €140 a month- but I stopped complaining when I got appendicitis and all I had to pay for was the food in the hospital.

  20. Here’s hoping Courtney gets better soon.  Your decision to do whatever it takes and worry the bills later was the right one, of course.  I’m fortunate enough to have faboo coverage at the moment, but there’s been times when I haven’t, so I definitely understand.  Keeping you in my prayers (and, perhaps as useful, hitting the sidebar).

  21. Dude that is pretty scary! I don’t have kids but I can certainly understand what you’re going through. A few others beat me to it, but there is help for the uninsured. Hospitals will be willing to work with you if you tell them you just can afford the bill. Be sure to talk to them, do not assume you will have to pay the entire bill.

    Best of wishes to you all!

  22. Thanks again to everyone who has sent along a donation and all the good advice and links. My family and I are once again grateful for your generosity.

    Courtney has been on laxatives for the past 24 hours or so and drinking a lot more water than she’s used to. She seems to be doing much better at this point and we’re optimistic that this should take care of the problem.

    As for me, it’s kicked my job hunting into high gear once again. It’s clear I can’t afford to stay at a job that doesn’t offer affordable health care. I’ve expanded my job search beyond the borders of Michigan as well. We’ll see what turns up.

  23. Les, Neil, DaBroad, others, my sympathies.  I remember paying for one kid’s birth out-of-pocket on sub-wages, and another kid being born with charitable help, and we only got really decent health insurance when the youngest one was 15.  In three months, he won’t be eligible to be on my insurance so the whole cycle starts over again. 

    What the hell is wrong with this country, we’re so damn great and we can’t do this one important thing?

  24. SG
    Personal Question, and so “Sorry, I don’t wish to say” will be an understandable answer.  What Pre-Existing condition? (my gross is only £18700, so im interested in this as more politicians keep pushing insurance as ‘The only solution’)

  25. Frank_The_Tank – I remember that name from ages back! You sound playful smile

    LH – My gross is about £4500, but only do 16 hours/week. I don’t really understand why I wanted to say that, but I did. Merry dinner

    We wish you a merry dinner,
    We wish you a merry dinner,
    We wish you a merry dinner,
    And a happy new beer

  26. I sometimes wonder, watching US medical dramas, how often they do something because they know they are charging it?  I realise ER isn’t real life, but I know a number of accountants who happily phone me on spurious points because their client pays, and it makes them look like they are doing something against the big, bad taxman.

  27. Rufus – ain’t you the president of Shinra inc. ???

    That’s it.  No more Final Fantasy for you. raspberry

  28. Geez, Les. I’m so sorry you have to find out the hard way that Corporate America doesn’t give a shit about people – and they are the ones in charge right now. I’m working for peanuts right now, even though I have the skills to make lots of money at what I do – for the simple reason that I spend the majority of my time in school and no employer seems to want me only part-time. I find it funny how the jobs that offer health insurance coverage seem to go to the people who could afford it on the pay alone. Okay, so it’s not so funny.

    Anyways, I know that severe constipation can cause blood in the urine – when you’re straining too hard to poo, you can burst the finer blood vessels in the kidneys from the sharp increases in blood pressure. Bruised kidneys like that really hurt – it’s like getting punched in them. So it’s no wonder Courtney could barely walk.

    As one of the fellow 47 million, I feel for ya, Les. I really do.

  29. May I make an attempt at humor?  I think everyone else covered the serious issues well enough anyways. 

    I am sure your daughter is pleased that you announced to the world she is constipated. 

    “Thanks Dad, that was thoughtful but I hope none of my friends read this!”

  30. Bahamat says:

    If nobody ever finds out you can get away with anything

    How much you can get away with was just brought home to me:  I just finished reading This is Paradise!  My North Korean Childhood by Hyok Kang.  Everyone knows things are bad in the “socialist paradise” of Kim Jong Il, but just how bad they are is mind-boggling.  The most discouraging thing is the depth of the delusion that the regime has been able to plant in the people.  The “paradise” in the title refers to the poor border village in China that Kang fled to at the age of thirteen with his parents.  Highly recommended for a case history of just how far control can go.

  31. Indeed I get a feeling that some people who live in bad conditions sometimes need a delusion to cope with what their life is. It’s only worth dispelling an illusion if you’re going to somehow make reality better for them – or if they will have to face reality at some point and you want to ease them into it gradually.

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