Over the last year, I’ve had several amazing experiences navigating America’s health care system, and what follows is a true account of that journey.
Like many Americans are wont to do, I switched jobs last August. It’s a good thing I did, because the place I worked for went out of business a couple months later. Unfortunately, my new employer does not offer health insurance. My old insurer quickly got wind that I no longer worked for who I said I worked for, so they sent me a brochure and a letter. "Oh how wonderful," I thought. "They’re going to let me continue my coverage."
The brochure’s cover featured a picture of a smiling, beautiful white family frolicking happily in front of their large mansion on their perfectly manicured lawn. The handsome father in the picture was throwing a football to his light-haired son while the thin, fully-bosomed blonde mother watched approvingly as her sweet, doe-eyed daughter played with a doll or something in the background. The American Dream!
"Where do I sign up?!?" I thought, ripping open the packet in a frenzy, searching for the dotted line and the box to check that said, "Yes, send me your insurance and this lifestyle immediately."
Well, that’s when I read the letter, which said I’d have to pay them $400 a month to keep my insurance, no lifestyle guarantee included. Seeing that my current employer not only doesn’t provide insurance but, in fact, no real meaningful form of compensation beyond what is required to merely subsist, I sadly declined.
Now, I know, I know, I should have just gone out and got myself a job with health insurance. After all, in this economy getting a job like that is just like going to Walgreen’s and getting a gallon of milk. Anyone can do it. But, I confess, I’m a loser. Instead of getting the job I should have straight out of high school, I instead decided to go to college at one of the top liberal arts universities in the Midwest and then—and this is where I REALLY messed up—get an advanced degree from one of the top five or so universities in the entire world. And do you know what I did next? I got a job—college professor—that requires I have those degrees. I know, if only I’d gone out in the world and made something of myself, none of this would have ever happened.
Well, anyway, after a couple months in my new job, people who care about me discovered that I was just out there in the world, completely unprotected from the massive expenses associated with our brilliant fee-for-service health care system, and they demanded I get insurance.
You know, it says a lot about the system when your family is horrified that you might have to go see a doctor without first purchasing a product from a for-profit corporation. I wonder how many people in other civilized countries have those types of concerns about their health and the health of their family. Oh wait, I don’t wonder, because I know the answer is zero. Every other rich, civilized country in the entire world, which only includes about 50 countries, considers health care a basic human right and, as such, provides it for their citizens. To find a country that treats its citizens like over 48 million people in this country are treated, children included, you have to go to some third-world hell hole, like Somalia, or rural Kentucky, or, most likely, you can just drive around your own neighborhood.
So, as I was saying, my family’s shock and horror, in conjunction with the fact that I actually did have a bit of a health emergency, convinced me that I should get some insurance. I paid for a non-renewable 6-month temporary plan.
That plan expired at the end of last month, so a couple weeks ago I once again had to shop around on the "free market," which made me really excited because of all I’d been hearing on cable news lately when it came to the free market.
"The free market!" I thought. "It’s that glorious place where you are massaged, fanned, and fed treats by nude voluptuous goddesses whilst the ecstatic delight of ‘choice’ courses through your entire body. I can’t wait!!!"
I’m not positive, but I swear I felt the lips of the adoring Virgin herself kiss my head at that moment. I’d never felt so lucky to be an American, to be a citizen in the country with the best health care choices in the entire world!
Well, here are the choices that greeted me in the free market:
• Choice #1: Make a billion dollars over the next week or so and then get back to them.
• Choice #2: Give insurance company 90% of your monthly salary and/or the rights to prima nocturne with your wife in exchange for a plan that, from what it seems (at first), might actually provide decent coverage (after a big deductible, of course, let’s not get crazy here), as long as you're young, healthy, not a smoker, not pregnant or planning to get pregnant (I lucked out there), and as long as you agree to pay for your own "adult well-care" and "child well-care," which means they won't pay for preventive care, physicals, or check-ups for you or your child. They only pay if you get sick*.
*Only paying for people who get sick over providing cheaper preventive care sounds like a weird and backwards strategy—until later, that is, when you realize that they won’t pay if you get sick, either. Then you have an epiphany where the maniacal genius behind it all becomes clear, and a little guy with your money in his hands appears in a dark cloud before you, laughing in your face.
• Choice #3: Pay 80% of your monthly salary for the "fig leaf" plan that will cover 80% of your expenses if you go to the ER (after a $2,000 deductible), nothing more, and only if you go to a certain ER and only if you see a certain doctor at that ER and only if you go to the ER at certain hours and only if you get certain treatments and only if the insurance executive in charge of your health care agrees that those treatments are appropriate for you and that’s only after said insurance executive has exhausted all possibilities of denying or rescinding your coverage for any reason, like not crossing a t on your application.*
*In all likelihood, even after purchasing this plan, you will still end up getting your health care in an animal stall like many other Americans these days.
So, I chose option #3 and, oh man, let me tell you, participating in the free market like a real non-socialist meat-eating gun-toting American felt SO GOOD!!! After I clicked "purchase plan," I immediately put on my cut-off jean shorts, fluffed my mullet, went outside, slaughtered a buffalo, gave small pox to an Indian, phone tapped my neighbor’s house, gave my life savings to Joel Osteen, got a $6 burger at Hardee’s, drafted a love letter to Glenn Beck, heckled a guy exercising by my house (what a fag!), committed some casual elder abuse, and shot off some bottle rockets out of the barrels of my sawed-off double shotgun, "accidentally" hitting my friend square in the face (ok, I was drunk).
And then, when I came back inside, to my extreme delight, I learned that my adventure in the free market was really just beginning. You see, I still had to fill out an application and a health history form, which is the form where you basically tell the insurance company everything down to the last time you stubbed your toe, the feet per second of your urine stream, and the number of wrinkles in your rectum. Oh, and then they take your money.
Then, after they have your money, they tell you that they are reviewing your application. You see, you have to pay them just to even consider you.
Then, after they leave you in purgatory for a few days, during which time you take extra care to buckle your seatbelt, to cut your food into extra small pieces, and to wipe down all public toilet seats, they call you back with a bunch of ominous follow-up questions about your health history, like "Are you still feeling the effects of this?" and "Have any symptoms returned" and "Are you still being treated for this?" Getting these questions from your potential health care insurer is kind of like being on a first date and having your date ask you, "So, do you still live with your mother?"
Now, I understand that insurers don’t want to get defrauded, but isn’t it sad that, when it comes to getting health care coverage, getting sick actually dooms you for future health care coverage the rest of your life if you happen to, oh, say, switch jobs? Or get laid off? Or have your employer drop your insurance plan? Or any number of other things that can leave people at the mercy—I mean loving, soft caress—of the free market?
So, after they ask you their questions, they accept your application (they really want to keep your money, after all), but—hold on—there are a couple exceptions. You see, they have these things called "exclusion riders" (as if you didn’t feel like they were riding you already), whereby they tell you that they'll give you insurance, but not for anything that, based on your health history, you'll likely need to see a doctor for.
So, in review, the insurance companies 1) take your money for an advertised plan, 2) find out how healthy you are, and then 3) give you advertised plan with some advertised parts excluded based on the likelihood that you might actually need to use them.
And then this is the point when I thank God that I live in a country where business executives out to make a profit get to make decisions about my health care and deny me coverage because of something that happened to me when I was 17 so that they can make another $12 million dollars this year.
The free market!!! WOO HOO!!!!!
What a utopia!!
Where’s my assault rifle? Where’s my magic marker? I’m drawing a Hitler mustache on a poster of the president and heading to a town hall!!!