“That’ll be $542, ma’am. You can swipe your card there.”
I am at the hospital for a procedure. It is a fairly minor one but rather uncomfortable and definitely scary. I don’t want to put you off your breakfast, so let’s just call it an ‘oh shit that’s definitely scary‘.
I am confused. “I’m sorry, what? My insurance covers this.”
“No ma’am, your files say you haven’t been insured for the required time, so you have to pay.”
“No, no I have, that must be wrong, can you check again?”
The receptionist turns to her colleague. “What time is her appointment?”
Me: “Uh, it’s 3.30.”
Receptionist 2: “I think it’s 3.30. What’s she in for?”
Me: “Um, hello? I’m having an ‘oh shit that’s definitely scary’.”
Receptionist 1: “She’s here for an ‘oh shit that’s definitely scary’. Her insurance doesn’t cover that. She’s gonna have to pay.”
I am invisible. The women continue chatting and checking computer records. They talk about deductibles and pre-existing conditions and things I don’t understand. I stand quietly for a moment then intervene, explaining that I have had health insurance for over a year and a half, there must be a mistake, should I ring the insurance company?
There is no further argument to be made. To my horror, I feel tears pricking my eyes. Apprehension plus bewilderment does not a happy Hebe make. I pay the $542. Two hours later, I am still in the waiting room, passing time by crafting in my head exactly how I will deal with the insurance company in the morning.
My name is called. I walk down a corridor and into a consulting room. A doctor and a resident and a student hover around me, blue scrubs and stethoscopes. They talk over me, using complicated words. It is a bit distracting. I squeak. “Oh, sorry!” says the resident, his head popping up, “Technical talk!” They are very nice. They try to calm me by talking about Andy Murray’s win at the Olympics. It works a bit.
Why am I telling you this? Because while I was sitting in the waiting room, wondering if I could get away with using the word ‘shitweasel’ on the phone to the insurance company, I thought, what if I hadn’t been able to pay? What about those women who don’t have a spare $542 to pay for a procedure which, while fairly routine, is crucial in identifying serious illness?
According to government figures, more than 17 million women in the US are uninsured and are more likely to suffer serious health problems as a result. That’s 17 million. Slightly more than the entire population of the Netherlands, and three times the population of London. 17 million women who might delay seeking treatment, or decline to buy the prescriptions they need, because of cost. Women who literally have to make life or death decisions. It is a horrific game of chance with generational consequences.
Obamacare is the President’s solution to this national scandal, a piece of legislation aimed at decreasing the numbers of uninsured people and reducing the cost of healthcare. It is bitterly opposed by Republicans for reasons I can’t fathom; it is worth highlighting again this excellent article by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post.
If only the Republicans devoted as much time and effort to condemning the cost of health care provision as they have done in, say, supporting a company that sells chicken sandwiches. Never mind the fact that Chick-Fil-A’s owner has publicly stated his opposition to gay marriage, the real horror is that the company sells food stuffed with high levels of sodium. Clearly outrage is not the only thing likely to result in high blood pressure for many Republicans.
I am lucky. I have a good health care package (when it works) from my company. I have no dependents to worry about. And one day I shall return to the UK and the National Health Service, a comfort blanket with no price tag for procedures like the one I have just had. No wonder the NHS was celebrated as one of the UK’s greatest achievements during the Olympic opening ceremony.