My Life Without Health Insurance (A Tale Of Two Weeks)

You know, I used to be pretty pro-sided on the whole "universal healthcare thing". Now I've become a fanatic. Due to red tape and a big ol' "whoopsie!" my family has been without health insurance since Hubby started a new job just over a month ago. The red tape was the insurance not becoming active until the first of the month, regardless of when he started employment there; and the "whoopsie!" was their HR department not submitting the forms to the insurance company. The end result is us being stuck with several medical bills that we really couldn't afford. How much? Over the span of two weeks we've wracked up about $731.35 just for doctors' visits and prescriptions. And that's for minor stuff!

The Breakdown...

Office Call for Imp............................................. $91.00
Medication for Imp............................................ $12.34
Office Call for gynecologist................................ $198.00
Medication for me............................................. $11.54
Office call for me............................................... $91.00
Blood work-up for me....................................... $55.00
Medications for me............................................ $23.44
Maintenance scripts for me................................. $54.03
After-hours office call for Bug............................. $165.00
Medications for Bug........................................... $30.00

Grand Total (so far)......................................... $731.35

Not so big a deal on it's own, right? Maybe. Depends on who you are and what your budget is like. Now, let's add some stuff to it for funzies.

Break work on car............................................ $500.00
Plumbing work to fix drain, toilet....................... $200.00

Secondary total (so far).................................. $1431.35

That's just in two weeks! That doesn't even account for the normal, everyday spending we plan for like gas, groceries, bills. It's easy to see how a family can easily go bankrupt in a short amount of time just from medical bills. And these visits to the doctor were for minor issues like strep throat and pink eye. Imagine what would have happened if I had to be hospitalized or required specialized treatment for my immune disorder? There is no way on earth we could afford that, ever. And, just like most people in my position who are sick and really can't afford to see a doctor, I've been putting stuff off. This is especially dangerous for me with my blood condition. I should have see the doctor weeks ago for my sinus infection, but I knew money was tight so I just kept putting it off until finally the pain became unbearable and I crawled in to see him. I knew he wouldn't bill me right away, which is nice of him (been seeing the same GP for 20 years), but the idea that eventually I'll have to cough up nearly $100 just to talk to the man gave me stomach cramps. Hopefully we'll be able to file these expenses retroactively and get some money back.

The Fear...

The main reasons why many Americans are against universal healthcare? From what I can tell it's because they're afraid the quality of care will drastically fall; they believe the government will begin to have a say in how and when you are treated; they think wait times to see specialists and doctors will go way up; they don't want any kind of government regulated anything (except maybe defense); and they don't want their taxes to go up. I can respect all of those fears and concerns, really I can! But I can't help but feel that many of them are just ill-founded. I made a query of sorts to some of my friends who live in countries that have some form of universal health care. These were the questions I asked:

1. How long would it take you to get in to see the gynecologist for a yeast infection/consultation?
2. How much would it cost you?
3. How long would it take you to get in to see the doctor (pediatrician or otherwise) for your kid to get antibiotics?
4. How much would the visit cost? How much would the medicines cost?
5. Are you able to see a medical professional on weekends or evenings?
6. How much would it cost?
7. Being completely honest, what level of care do you expect from a medical office/practitioner vs. what you actually get? How easy is it to change providers?
8. How much would it cost you to go to the ER for an asthma attack or other emergency? How long would you have to wait to be seen?
9. What country/province do you live?
10. Without disclosing how much income your family has, could you give a ratio of taxes to actual take-home pay monthly or yearly?

The Response...

From C. Snell, UK:

1. You'd see your GP first for a yeast infection. Usually get an appointment within the week. If they felt it was something more serious you'd be referred to a gynecologist after a few tests.
2. It costs nothing for the appointment. If you were given a prescr
iption it would cost £7.65 per item. Certain people are exempt from prescription charges. I don't pay as I have a tax credit exemption.
3. If I deemed my child ill enough to require antibiotics I could get an emergency appointment and be seen the same day.
4. The appointment costs nothing. Child prescriptions are free.
5. A doctor is always available for urgent out of hours issues. You have to leave a message then wait for a call back. If the doctor feels it's important enough to require that you are seen they make an appointment which is normally at the local hospital (not the same as A&E).
6. Nothing
7. Some doctors can be a little abrupt. My GP's office has several doctors so I can request to see who I like but may have to wait more than a week to do so. You don't have to see the doctor you are registered with. I can't say that it's any real hassle to change to a different practice if you have problems.
8. It costs nothing to go to A&E. How soon you are seen depends entirely on where you live. Big city A&Es are much busier than small town ones. I live in the latter and have never waited more than 30 minutes. Bigger cities, priority goes to the urgent cases.
9. UK
10. Tax begins at 20% when you earn over £9440.

From L. Cooke, Ontario, CA:

1. I would see a gp for a yeast infection and I would expect to get in the same day that I called.
2. the visit would be free, I would have to pay for the medication (which is over the counter)
3. I would expect to get the kids in on the same day if
they needed antibiotics
4. I can't remember the last time I had to buy antibiotics I'll call my friend, she has to buy them all the time.
5. On evenings and weekends there are walk-in clinics available (I have one down the street)
6. The visit would be free.
7. I expect good care, I have changed doctors in the past because I didn't like their politics (VERY CATHOLIC and he refused to refer me to a specific OB when I was pregnant because the OB also performed abortions). It's not easy to find a new GP but I understand that's also the case in the States. We do have a shortage of family doctors in general.
8. The ER is free, and all medications you receive in the hospital are also free. The nurses will often make efforts to top you up as much as possible before you leave. The last time we went to the ER, Eve cracked her foot and we thought it might be broken, on Friday night at 8:30, we waited about an hour to get in and she got x rays by a pediatrician that is affiliated with Sick Kids Hospital.
9. Toronto, Ontario, Canada
10. We are a weird case, I don't pay any taxes because I'm a student, and I actually recieve a Child Tax Benefit of $700 a month from the government...but here are the stats:
15% on the first $43,561 of taxable income, + 22% on the next $43,562 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over $43,561 up to $87,123), + 26% on the next $47,931 of taxable income (on the portion of taxable income over $87,123 up to $135,054), + 29% of taxable income over $135,054.

From J. Burnes, also in CA:
"In Canada, unless it's a private healthcare facility (massage therapy, chiropractor, naturopath/naturalist) all hospital and doctors office, clinic visits are covered under our provincial health insurance plans. A doctor will likely be booked solid if you call in for an emergency appointment, but they always have emergency spots open for such cases so like Laura said, you could expect to be seen that day or the next day if all the spots are taken already. We don't generally have gp's open on the weekend but walk-in clinics are open during the day and some evenings...depends on the clinic. For an ER visit, it depends on the severity of the situation. If it's a severe asthma attack you don't wait, but if it's deemed non-life-threatening then you can wait up to 8 hours to be seen by the on-call doc."
From K. Harquail, CA:
"My son was referred to an ENT last month. It was decided he needed a tonsillectomy and will be going in for that on May 24. So, the wait was not long at all."

 The Solution..?

Seriously, the only difference sounds like they pay slightly higher taxes but they pay nearly nothing for healthcare costs. I can't help but wonder how this is any different from OUR system of using insurance companies? I mean, we send off a portion of our check to insurance companies so they will foot the bill (to a degree) if we get sick. These folks send off a portion of their check to the government so they will foot the bill (to a degree) if we get sick. How is that different? Aside from people and corporations making money hand over fucking fist on us, it would be the government. Which would actually lower costs because the less Uncle Sam has to pay for medical services the less YOU have to pay for medical services (if this actually happened). It would no longer be about who could make the most from the insurance companies but who could out bid the best to the government. Do you know how much money we could potentially end up saving? It's mind boggling! Could it fail? Absolutely. But, hell it's worth a damn shot. The system we have now sucks. And I'm sorry, but Australia, Canada, the UK, France, Germany and a myriad of other industrialized nations seem to be doing just hunky-dory with their set up. They even have paid parental leave! PAID PARENTAL LEAVE!!! That's for a mom OR a dad, folks!

On the flip side are some Americans who think the system we have is definitely broken and needs to be repaired. I can't help but notice many of these Americans happen to work IN the medical field.

To quote P. Smith:
"Kate, not at all, they are the reason we WON'T get universal health care. Medical insurance companies make more profits in 3 months than our national debt (look it up). They also have a powerful lobby. I've worked in health care for 26 years and they have slowly increased mandates in care. They make the rules. Many of the doctors I know have left major medical facilities because the ICs [insurance companies] mandate treatment, even down to what a visit entails and how long it should take, IE. 20 minutes for a new patient visit, 15 minutes for a check up.These are ridiculous allotments! It is no longer the doctor-patient decision on procedures, it's all up to the ICs as to whether your treatment is paid for. Unless of course you pay out of pocket. I won't even get on the Pharmaceutical soap box. They are the other big thieves in the game of health care costs!"
Or, some of them are just concerned citizens, like me. They believe that universal health care may not be the right choice, but they can see the system is broken.

From J. Pittman:
"Oh heck yeah we need to reform. It is a sad fact that most people go into bankruptcies because of medical bills. I would think logically that would make people wake up and see we have to do something..."

So, it seems that most of America is in agreement: something must be done to fix our healthcare system. But, what do we do about it? How do we overcome such huge opponents like Monsanto, Pfizer, Kaiser, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and all the others? I honestly don't have a quick fix remedy and anyone who says they do is full of shit. It took a long time for this country to mess this up, and it's gonna take a long time to make it right.

...I just hope I don't go broke by then.