Saturday, February 20, 2010

This Is What Happens When You Don't Have Health Insurance

I am a single woman who ran her own business for almost 17 years.  It was a small business but it kept the roof over my head and food in the tummy.  And that's about it.  I applied to several insurance companies for coverage and was turned down to preexisting conditions.  There was one HMO that was willing to cover me but it was only for catastrophic care and it cost more than the rent for my office.  I ended up receiving health care by way of the emergency room.

This was okay in my thirties and forties, not so good for my fifties.  Then I moved to Reno and one of the guys at the dog park told me that I would probably be able to receive care from the VA.  I checked, and lo and behold, I was eligible.  Serving my country was finally worth something other than the pride I felt wearing the uniform.

The morning before you see your doctor for the first time you show up at the lab and they draw blood and urine samples.  The doctor has the results before you see him and is prepared to discuss with you your symptoms and ailments.  I left the VA that afternoon with blood pressure medicine, a new type of asthma inhaler and thyroid replacement hormone.  Nothing for pain as I am allergic to almost everything except Demerol.

Last week I had low back pain that was radiating down my legs and up my back and the on call nurse suggested that I come into the emergency room because it was becoming hard for me to breathe.  It was about ten pm and there were only a few people there and none of them were in the waiting room.  They immediately took me into a room and started an EKG.  My heart was okay but my breathing wasn't so they gave me an asthma treatment right away.  Then they sent me for X-rays for my low back.

My doctor called the next day with the results and prescribed a muscle relaxer to help reduce the pain and increase movement and asked me to make an appointment. Before I even saw him the nurse gave me my H1N1 and pneumonia shots. Then the doctor scheduled MRIs for my low back and neck.

The VA has a new program that directly targets female veterans and as I left his office they snatched me up, did an intake and performed all those girl specific tests.  That doctor suggested that I get an ultrasound and abdominal CAT scan.

All test were performed this Wednesday and Thursday.  The MRIs were first and my doctor called me that afternoon with the results.  There is some impingement in the low back, but the neck is a crisis area.  According to the MRI there is very little spinal fluid from C5 down and very little space for the nerves to pass through comfortably which is why my hands go to sleep whenever I type or hold something as small as a book.  He suggested that I immediately go get a cervical collar while I waited for an appointment with a neurologist.

The CAT scans and ultrasound were performed on Thursday and even I could tell there was something wrong from just looking at the monitors.  Although my mammogram and Pap smear were normal, the rest of the girlie parts aren't and they are inhibiting the function of other organs in the abdomen.  I had surgery in that area in 1990 and it looks like they will have to perform another one to remove said girlie parts.  Oh joy.

All of this could have been prevented if I had had medical coverage.  Now everything is at a crisis level that can only be addressed by surgery.  As an acupuncturist I am offended because most of this could have been avoided with preventative health care and as a patient I am uncomfortable with the possible outcomes.  As I used to tell my patients, waiting until you are thirsty to dig a well is not efficient.  Or smart.

American health care is always touted as the best in the world, but that only applies if you can afford it.  If you can't, then you are reduced to using the emergency room which is much more expensive than preventative care.  Luckily, I happen to be a veteran and will have health care for the rest of my life unless the GOP gets its way and starts eliminating services for veterans like they did under Reagan.

America has become so polarized that individuals and their needs are being lost in the "debate".  A single payer system would be the best option for the people, but not for the insurance companies that like to hike premiums whenever they want and on whoever they want and then deny needed services until the patient dies or gives up.  Meanwhile the GOP distorts the truth and inflames their base by inventing bogeymen and blaming everything except global warming on those who are not melanin impaired and innocent people are dying due to lack of services.  How is that the best in the world?


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