How I lost my health insurance at the hairstylist’s

by , posted on Tuesday, July 7th, 2009 at 10:35 pm

So you’re chugging along doing all the things you do as a responsible citizen, you work, and pay your bills and your taxes, you are there for your children, and fighting for your marriage, you even volunteer. It’s spring, 1998, and gradually you just become so tired it’s a struggle merely to climb a flight of stairs.

Oh, well, you do have two daughters in college, another nearing the end of her senior year in high school, a son in middle school, a full-time job, a house to take care of, are back in college, and have two dogs, two cats, and oodles and oodles of marital strain.

Fatigue sort of goes with the territory, and like many working moms, you just push past it. You get up, you get the family off in various directions, you go to work, you go to class, you cook dinner, you help with homework, go to games and track meets, do housework, set boundaries for the two kids at home and field frequent counseling-like calls from the two who are not, you try to work through problems with your husband, and you collapse exhausted into bed, get up the next day, and do it all over again – it’s a routine you dare not interrupt with reflections on your fatigue – there is no time.

Then one day…

You show up two weeks later than you should have to the hairstylist (pretty common when you are constantly pressed for time) and instead of the usual lecture about the color of your roots, she turns you around in the chair and says:

“I look at people’s skin tones all day long and try to decide the best coloring for their hair, and I can tell you this: gray is not a normal human skin tone. Get out of here right now and go see your doctor.”

For some reason, though she is not the first person to note you don’t look your best lately, this is the one thing that manages to penetrate the fatigue-fog and you do as you are told.

You call on the way, check in, sit down in the crowded waiting room resigned to waiting for a couple of hours, and a mere minute later the doctor, passing by the glassed in sliding windows on the other side of the wall catches sight of you, comes out, and demands to know: “How did you get so anemic?” You say, “I am?” He says, “Come with me right now” takes your hand and drags you back to an examining room.

Later that day, at the oncologist/hematologist office, this new strange doctor takes blood, orders up an outpatient transfusion, tells you that you no doubt have acute myelogenous leukemia, could keel over dead at any moment as long as you are untreated, and should now go home and call him the very minute the HMO calls you and tells you to check into some local hospital or the other – but should on no account whatsoever check into that local hospital.

You find this direction to avoid hospitalization confusing, in light of the “keel over dead untreated” stuff and say so. Whereupon oncologist/hematologist guy says HMO will try to check you into local or even regional hospital – because it’s cheaper – but in his opinion no local or regional hospital should be treating leukemia, since cure rates double in large teaching institutions. Risk of keeling over dead while he is arguing for your life with HMO is less than risk of dying in local hospital. Then he writes you a list of five hospitals in Chicago that you can allow yourself to be checked into, and says if it’s one of these ok, but it won’t be, so call me when they tell you to go to a local hospital.

Sure enough, he’s right; they do, the very next day. You call him. He works some magic you know naught of (though local rumor tells you later that he informed HMO that he will be sure to make himself available to testify at your spouse’s wrongful death suit later) and you get the referral to the large teaching institution later that day.

Telling your children…no, you won’t write the details here, beyond saying that especially for someone who lost a parent at the age of eleven, it’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done to try to be honest about the prognosis (which is grim) but reassuring about your love for them and intent to fight for your life.

Skip ahead then. On your first day in large teaching institution, you are visited by a social worker, who surprises you by demanding to know not the details of your home life, or about your state of mind on being diagnosed with a more-lethal-than-not form of cancer, but simply: “Who is carrying your insurance, you or your husband?”

You think this is rather cold for a social worker and inform her somewhat frostily that you are sure the bill will be taken care of – it’s pre-approved.

Social worker looks at you with what you interpret as pity and says it’s really, really important. So you say, spouse, as you work for small non-profit that offers no benefits, but also admit to her that you think marriage is for sure doomed now.

“Good, good!” she says.

And you wonder why, why, on top of extra-lethal form of cancer, must you also get unbalanced social worker?

She must be able to tell from your expression that you think she’s nuts, because she explains, like so:

If you worked for a company that offered insurance, if you carried your family’s insurance, next year your insurer would slap a million dollar surcharge on the company policy for carrying a leukemia patient. The company would get the bill and someone in accounting would question “what is this extra million dollars we are being billed?”

The insurance company would explain to them that the million is for you, and it is yearly, but is, ahem, “fixable.” They will say “as long as she is on your insurance (wink, wink) this charge will be there. So what you have to ask yourself (more wink, wink) is whether this employee is worth a million dollar a year salary on top of what you are already paying her.”

Social worker said she had seen small business owners go almost broke trying to cover this charge, and had even heard of one who defiantly did go broke, throwing all of the employees out of work. But more usually, she said, they just fire you.

“Wait, wait!” say you, “Isn’t it illegal to fire someone for their health history? Suppose I’m all well and working?”

She looks at you with more pity, says yes, so of course they will have to find “cause” to fire you, which any employer can always do.

“But I am a very, very good employee!” you protest.

“Yes,” she says, “but they can always find some cause.” The real problem she goes on to explain, is that you will find a new job, that company’s insurer will slap them with the surcharge, they will take their turn at firing you, until you’ve been through six or seven jobs in a year, fired “for cause” from all of them, which of course looks very, very bad to a prospective employer.

“So in a year or so of this, you will not just be uninsurable, you will also be unemployable.”

She asks who your husband works for, since they’d probably try to do this to him too. You say he is a cop working for a municipality, which pleases her. “They have all sorts of layers of officials, elected and otherwise, to work their way through to get to the decision, then once they do they have to get past his union, so it will take much longer to get him fired.” She also, though, offered sympathy for the fact that what with the police union and the municipality fighting out whatever “cause” they got him on in such a public profession, it was sure to end up in the local papers and disrupt all our lives – including the children’s – when they did get that far.

You remind her you seem headed for divorce, and she says, well, okay then, just carry the COBRA to the limit and keep on working for small not-for-profits that don’t offer insurance.

You ask her what you are supposed to do for health care and she says sooner or later the insurance companies would force you onto Medicaid – either by means of making you unemployable and broke, or by means of you being uninsured and going through any and all assets you have paying medical bills until you are broke and sick enough that you can’t work, and end up on Medicaid.

You are rather horrified, but have other things (like trying to stay alive and simultaneously on top of what your teenage children are up to from the hospital many miles away) on your mind, and besides, this all seems so uncivilized and melodramatic and “worst case scenario” and…unlikely, somehow, so you set this aside for now.

You live. In fact you are cured!

A year later you are divorced. You are struggling to get by as a single mother, and you are making the COBRA payments.

Your ex comes by to pick up your son and tells you that the municipality he works for’s administrator told him in absolute shock that the insurance company slapped a million dollar surcharge on the municipality’s insurance policy, and said it would go on yearly until you are off, but since you had exercised your right to COBRA it would “do no good” if your ex was gone. The administrator said he was so shocked and offended that he went to ALL the other carriers possible, and one by one they all gave him back a “no bid” with the proviso that they would welcome the opportunity to bid…just as soon as that leukemia patient’s COBRA rights expire. So barring leaving all the municipality’s employees naked of insurance they were absolutely trapped.

Social worker begins to seem less melodramatic to you.

Your COBRA rights expire.

You go on ICHIP, the program for uninsurable Illinoisans. It’s easy, because your disease is on the short-list of twelve or so that automatically render you “uninsurable for life.” You discuss the horrible policy benefits with your car insurance agent – who is also a trusted friend. She tells you she is also on ICHIP (though it was much harder for her to get on it – she had to get three denials from private insurers) and the entire benefit it provides is to “get you through the door of a hospital” since if you really do get ill you will get benefits so minimal that you will be forced to pay the vast majority of the bills until you are bankrupt and forced onto Medicaid.

Social worker begins to seem downright reasonable to you.

The day comes when you weigh the many, many hundreds of dollars you are paying on a monthly basis, through ICHIP, but to the very insurance company that once charged your ex’s employer a million dollars (coincidentally, the exact bill for your treatment over your year of leukemia fell just short of that million, by about ten dollars, so this company was out exactly nothing) of what is starting to smell like blood money, against your daughters continuing in college and your son eating on a regular basis.

You get a second job.

Your daughter gets sick with Type I Diabetes while uninsured and you weigh those hundreds of dollars to the insurer you now thoroughly detest and you drop that insurance and buy her insulin and syringes and test strips and trips to the doctor instead. You are now so broke that if you would just give up and quit your two jobs and collapse already you are certain you would qualify for Medicaid. But you are stubborn and you go to work.

Your mother – who though she has been a strict vegetarian since birth has very high cholesterol that will not respond to diet and who has been on high blood pressure medication for decades – survives her third heart attack and you consider the fact that your father died at 39 of a heart attack and you think that probably you are not far away from one yourself.

Your oldest sister says while visiting Mom at the hospital that she has been on high blood pressure and cholesterol medication for a decade too.

Your nearest-in-age sister, also a strict vegetarian, goes to get her cholesterol checked and sure enough is placed on high cholesterol and high blood pressure medication. She is also diagnosed as almost completely deaf in her left ear, as your father was at a very young age, and as you suspect you are too. She gets a miniscule hearing aid. You are careful to not put the phone to your bad ear.

Your little brother is diagnosed with cholesterol that doesn’t go down in response to a diet (you get hilarious stories about your sweet and gentle sister-in-law’s brutal enforcement of said diet) and high blood pressure. He goes on medication.

You go to the drug store and test your blood pressure when you wake up with the blood pounding in your ears one day and, sure enough, it’s crept up to high borderline. You try a myriad of things and finally hit on running every day and cutting all of the salt out of your diet to get it to the high end of “normal.” You check it once a week.

You struggle – much – with your weight and the overwhelming need for naps and your ridiculously dry skin and your thinning hair. Your late-twenties daughter, who has just been diagnosed with a completely non-functioning thyroid gland, goes on thyroid medication and lectures you that these are all exactly her symptoms, so you should get your thyroid checked. You know it, and are aware (as your daughter is not) that your mother and sisters have all also been on thyroid medication for years, but you can’t afford it – or the regular doctor visits and monitoring that go with it.

You go to coffee with your friends. They have not had an easy time of it lately with their own and their husbands’ health. In fact, it’s been a horrible couple of years. Your heart bleeds for them and you can think of no words sufficient to describe their courage and grace. And yet sometimes you feel jealous that they have access to medical care, and then you just feel guilty and small-minded, because they need this care, and they are wonderful, wonderful people who have worked hard for the lives they’ve built and who give much back to their communities.

But still…you hear about one friend’s breast cancer, and you remember that your oncologist/hematologist warned you that all leukemia patients who survive eventually die of some form of cancer – because the chemo drugs are “the strongest carcinogens, in the strongest doses, known to man.” And you remember that your maternal grandmother died of ovarian cancer, and your nearest-in-age sister was successfully treated for ovarian cancer at the age of 24. But you know you can’t afford a tenth of the screenings you should be having on an annual basis – not even once.

Or you hear about a husband’s heart surgery and you think you might well need that one too – your mother, her sister, and one of your own have all had that particular surgery. But since you can’t afford the surgery, you don’t bother to try to have the tests you can’t afford either.

You don’t go get your hair done any more. You can’t afford it. So you do it yourself.

But you mostly fret about that because you will love forever the hairstylist who probably saved your life – even if you did end up uninsurable for the duration of that life in the process.

diarist’s note: Yeah, ok, this is my story. If you are annoyed by my writing it entirely in the second person, please be advised that I did it deliberately, because, quite frankly, this could be you.

Anyone can be uninsurable in America.

In about as much time as it takes to get your hair done.

I’m not looking for sympathy here – I’m alive and not everyone manages to survive the insurance fiasco that masquerades as “care” in our country. Besides, I’m so stubborn I’m planning on living until I’m old enough for Medicare. So I’d like to direct your sympathy to those who are still alive, but may not make it through another decade of having their “care” rationed by the insurance company accountants.

I know I’m not exactly breaking news here, so please, do not tip, do not rec, go directly to your friends and neighbors and explain to them that their medical care is a disaster waiting to happen, give them their congressperson and senator’s contact info and get them to call or e-mail.

Crossposted at Daily Kos


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41 Responses to “How I lost my health insurance at the hairstylist’s”

  1. dagolfnut says:

    I read your post at the Daily Kos and came here to speak to you a bit more privately. I would like your permission to reprint your post in a letter to the editor in my local newspaper. Our Opinion page allows comments and I am constantly arguing for health care reform with many in my conservative community. Your story is a prime example of our health care systems failures. I would need to edit it to about 1000 words to stay within their guidelines. I will check back in here in a day or two to look for a reply.

    • todd1970 says:


      I too would like to submit this to my local paper. Could you send me a copy of your final product? (forblogs at live dot com) I also wonder if Downtowner would be okay with us using her real name?


  2. Downtowner says:

    If you think it will help, by all means – I am honored that you would even ask.

  3. […] Healthcare is a total crock in this country | Jul 08th 2009 I just read this article about how a woman lost her health care coverage. It is not just that our insurance companies are […]

  4. bigcasino says:

    Horrifying story. I am posting to say that EVERYONE with good health coverage should write their senators and their house rep. Let’s not try to leave this to those with no or poor coverage to fix.

    It is up to us! Our congress people have to know that there are enough of us mad that they might lose their job in spite of the bribes they are getting from insurance companies!!!

  5. dagolfnut says:

    Common courtesy requires that I would ask permission first. Thank you for your permission. Be well and stay positive.


  6. […] there’s a near universal antipathy towards handing  power to the federal government. Surely tragic stories like this should convince anyone that the US system has to be fixed and […]

  7. MNJ says:

    Well, imagine my surprise finding this first on DU linked to a dkos diary and following it back here. I live in the Fox Valley and hope to use this to convince friends and family who are STILL sitting on the fence here that health care reform is needed ASAP.

    Here’s hoping your blog has some legs and will have far reaching effects for the good. Be well and thanks for writing this.

    • Downtowner says:

      Well, hello neighbor! Small intertubes after all, I guess.

      I hope it can help, and hope we meet one day – who knows, perhaps we already have.

  8. Ruckus says:

    I wish you the best and hope that you live a long and fruitful life.

    I’m also one of those without health care. Or I should say without money for health care. I don’t have, that I know of, the level of problems that you have. But then how would I know? I think that’s one of the real keys here, we never know until it’s either too late or so close to it that what care we get is usually really expensive and often only works half-assed. It’s a shame that we can spend over half a trillion on the military and who knows what on all the black budget items, but we can’t take care of basic human needs. I wonder how many people still want to emigrate to this country, considering how we treat our citizens. I can’t imagine many.

    I know one thing – all the platitudes – hang in there, etc., etc. really don’t mean anything anymore when you don’t have basic health care and have to make all of your life decisions based on that fact.

    I too would like to link to your post if you don’t mind. I think we need to get all the words out there that we can, in as many places as we can.

    • Downtowner says:

      Yes I do understand the “how would I know?” factor, And also the “probably just as well I don’t know since I can’t do anything about it” factor.

      Please do feel free to use the post in any way you think might possibly get us all out of this mess one day.

  9. IL JimP says:

    This is one more example of why the Senate needs to stop messing around and give us at least a Public Option. It ridiculous what people have to go through just to get basic care. Everyone thinks they have good healthcare until they get really sick, then like here they are driven out of the plan.

    The Public Option is the fall back position, because what we ultimately need to get to is Single Payer.

    Our Congress person is not championing this for us and he should, the President campaigned hard for him even in the primary and this is what the President ran on. It’s time he found a voice on this issue too, because his response to climate was just as awful.

    Sadly, your story could be all of ours if we don’t get real health care reform.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Downtowner says:

      Thanks and I agree entirely: single-payer is where we need to get.

      Is your congressperson mine? (i.e. are you in IL-14?) If so, please stay tuned, I’ve been working on trying to nail down his position and have a new post to put up soon – probably tomorrow.

  10. IL JimP says:

    Yep Mr. Foster. Is he one of the 52 that are threatening a slow down on the eventual conference bill?

    BTW I’m the same IL JimP from the DailyKos.

    • IL JimP says:

      Sorry I thought I was replying to this comment ….

      Downtowner says:
      July 9, 2009 at 5:20 pm
      Thanks and I agree entirely: single-payer is where we need to get.

      Is your congressperson mine? (i.e. are you in IL-14?) If so, please stay tuned, I’ve been working on trying to nail down his position and have a new post to put up soon – probably tomorrow.

    • Downtowner says:

      Ah, I know you! Well, check back…hopefully tomorrow, and I’ll have an update on where Foster is…or isn’t.

      • IL JimP says:

        I can’t wait.

        We should still meetup sometime to talk about what we should do about him either way. I’m thinking Batavia or Geneva depending on what side of town you live in.

  11. yinka wills says:

    I…just read this having come here via Livejournal and I was so stunned I registered with WordPress for the first time just to be able to post a comment.
    First, I’m sending every positive wish and hope and prayer to you. For you not only to survive, but thrive.

    Second I must say how mind boggling this is. I live in Britain, where there are endless debates over how good/not good the National Health Service (NHS) is. When it was set up, the medical profession opposed it. Now doctors are the ones who fiercely fight for it.In the 1980s, Mrs Thatcher’s government tried to starve it of money to get public opinion to think of private health insurance instead. Whilst many people have private insurance here, its not an either or situation.

    The NHS is supposed to cover everyone from cradle to grave and is supposed to be free at the point of delivery. Costs are covered by taxes/national insurance contributions. Employers make flat rate contributions too. Theirs dont rise according to the ill health of employees.

    That means you, your children mother and siblings would be covered for all family doctor visits, hospital visits, proceedures, operations etc. Medication is free to under 18s, over 65s and people out of work, (and some others) otherwise its £6 per item on the prescription. (charges introduced in Mrs T’s time). Doctors here all went to medical schools that are state owned and even the top professors work in the NHS hospitals whilst also running private clincs.So there is universal coverage.

    BUT.. it means that there can be an element of rationing or queuing. Very expensive drug treatments may not be available. It takes longer for the latest miracle drugs to be approved.There are fewer ‘state of the art, bristling with the most expensive technology’ hospitals.And dentists and opticians charges are no longer fully covered by the NHS.

    I cant get my head around someone having to pay every month insurance premiums for their health. Or facing bankruptcy because of premiums, or employers having to get rid of employees because of premiums.Its obscene.My Dad had prostate cancer, went into hospital, had the op, the chemo, the follow up etc etc, done. I had a breast lump, investigation, biopsy, lump removed, etc. Fibroids, ditto. None of these things involved thinking about money.

    I dont know you but am furious on your behalf. I have relatives in the US and am horrified to think that this has to be a concern. I would have thought that under insurance is even bigger problem than being uninsured, as far as numbers go. On this side of the Pond we get that healthcare is a big issue in the US, but your experience suggests it should be a cause of HUGE public outcry.

    As a middle aged, working mother myself, my heart goes out to you.
    I wish you all the luck in the world..

    • Downtowner says:

      Thank you so much – your comment really…am searching for words – makes me feel the sincerity behind it.

      I can’t imagine living in a system where you don’t have to focus on anything but the illness at hand. Here, I know many people who have what any American would refer to as “really good insurance” but who avoid seeking medical treatment because they are live in fear that they will end up bounced from their policy, or tagged with a “pre-existing condition” that will limit their ability to seek treatment in future. So even “really good insurance” is no guarntee of health care when you need it.

      And you are very right about underinsurance. We don’t even know how to count the number of uninsured here. But “junk insurance” is increasingly replacing what used to be decent policies. Such junk insurance features perhaps 50% coverage for hospital stays but no other benefits, no coverage for doctor visits, or medications or anything else. And they have very low lifetime maximums, and once you reach those you will never see another benefit.

      “Recission” is getting a lot of attention here as well lately. A typical case of recission might be a woman being diagnosed with breast cancer, filing an initial claim against her “really good insurance” which automatically triggers an investigation into her entire life-long medical history. If the insurance company discovers even a minor previous illness that she had not disclosed at the time she took out the policy, such as being treated for acne as a teen and which she did not disclose because she’d forgotten all about it, they will cancel her insurance before her treatment even begins.

      Insurers routinely deny claims repeatedly for bogus reasons, because ultimately some patients will give up, some will die, so the claims will never be paid and that is all that much more profit for the shareholders.

      The problem is really inherent in the for-profit system, because the only way to maximize profits is not to pay claims, because the purpose is not to help people get well, but to make money for your shareholders.

      I can see that your system is not perfect either – what system ever is? – but truly at least it operates toward a goal of providing health care, not making money, and surely that is better than what is going on here?

      Thank you again for your good wishes and thoughtful comments. It truly helps all of us fighting for better health care in the States to hear about how other systems work.

      Take care of yourself and I hope you come back – I plan to keep covering the battle going on over health care here.

  12. […] This story was passed on to me, and left me disturbed and angry.   The problem with insurance and health care is not just with the uninsured, or the under-insured, but is very real even for those with the best insurance policies. […]

  13. motrek says:

    First let me say I’m very sorry to hear about your diagnosis and your trouble with the insurance companies. It’s very easy for me to believe that our system is this broken and I do wish our politicians would focus on fixing it instead of placating the existing medical and insurance establishments.

    That being said, your story veers into the unbelievable when you start talking about the horrible health problems afflicting seemingly everybody you know. I am willing to accept that your family has terrible genetics, but what are the odds that every single one of your friends is in terrible health too? This part of your story makes me question its authenticity and detracts from your point about insurance companies. It is also suspect when you make the blanket statement that chemotherapy drugs are carcinogens–I can only find SOME evidence that SOME might be–and your single high blood pressure reading throws you into a state of hypochondriac panic. FYI, the correlation between high blood pressure and heart problems is surprisingly weak and the efficacy of heart surgery is surprisingly low, if that makes you feel better. It is a minor scandal that blood pressure and cholesterol medication is pushed so hard on Americans when their benefits are questionable, and that so many heart surgeries are performed when statistically their biggest effect is to reduce chest pain. (If you don’t believe me, look it up. This was a big news story a few years ago, carried by all the major news outlets, but was quickly and suspiciously silenced.)

    I would suggest to anyone who wants to reprint or redistribute this story that it would be much stronger with these parts left out.

    Also, BTW, it is disheartening that you seem to be overweight and suffer from horrible health problems but you apparently only recently decided to start regularly exercising. Exercise is the best way to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol, surely your doctor told this to you and your family?

    • Downtowner says:

      First let me say that apparently you are blessed with the healthiest friends on the planet! Or perhaps you are too young to find that, in a group of six or so women, ranging in age from early fifties to late sixties, it is uncommon that one of them has had leukemia, one breast cancer, one heart problems, and two of their husbands have heart problems. At my age – and the age of my friends – I do not believe such health histories are uncommon at all, and frankly I am closer to resenting your remarks questioning the challenges my friends have faced than pretty much anything else in your comments.

      As for my family, my understanding is that the “bad” type of cholesterol is certainly inheritable, as is high blood pressure, and heart disease, as my mother – in her 80’s – has all three of these conditions, and my father died at the age of 39 of the type of heart attack characterized as “one and done” I do not find it at all incredible that my siblings – ranging in age from their early 50’s to their late 60’s all suffer from this array of problems.

      As for the ovarian cancer, my maternal grandmother did die of it. My sister, in addition to being at greater risk for this disease due to this fact, is a DES Baby – feel free to look it up.

      My oncologist/hemotologist informed me that the chemo drugs given many AML patients, including ME, are the strongest carcinogens, in the strongest doses, known to man. I believe HIM, so feel no real need to look that up. If you would like verification of that feel free to contact one of our nation’s foremost oncologist/hematologists at a large teaching institution, because that’s what my oncologist/hematologist is.

      Also, by the way, I don’t believe I said I was overweight – I said I STRUGGLE with my weight. Moreover, I did not say I have not been in the habit of exercising, I have, throughout my entire adult life. Six months after my fourth child was born I weighed 100 lbs. Six months before the leukemia I weighed 100 lbs. When I was diagnosed I weighed 80 lbs. A year out of treatment I was at 120 lbs. – which really is overweight for me at five feet tall, but they insisted I pack on some pounds. And it’s been a struggle ever since to try to get that 20 off and keep it off.

      I believe what I SAID was that I struggle with my weight and had begun RUNNING, not the best form of exercise for someone at my age group, as I am already on my feet for extended hours every day – among other things, I live in a suburb, do not have a car, and walk everywhere I go.

      You are making a lot of assumptions based on a reading between the lines that are simply not accurate – including “hypochondriac panic” I think, as you seem to think waking up with your blood pounding in your ears and reacting by checking your blood pressure and stepping up your exercise schedule and controlling your sodium, constitutes, not only “hypochondriac panic” you at one and the same time take this as lamentable evidence that I should have indulged in said “hypochondriac panic” at an earlier date.

      Please don’t hesitate to ask me for further details if you like, I would much prefer it to wild speculations that fill in the details with invented inaccuracies.

      • motrek says:

        IMO you should consider what it is about your writing that caused me to speculate and read between the lines. When somebody says they struggle with their weight, the expression usually means they’re overweight, not under. I would argue that what you said, while maybe not inaccurate, is at least misleading. Same thing with your comment about running–what’s a reader to understand if all you said is that you started running, and nothing else about all the other regular exercise you get? As for the chemo drugs, we live in the age of the internet, where all you have to do is type in the name of a drug to prove your point. I don’t know why you’re being so defensive and relying on the “my guy is an expert” argument.

        To my mind, the odds seem vanishingly small that out of all the chemicals in the world, the MOST carcinogenic one also just HAPPENS to be an effective cancer drug. What about chemicals like hexavalent chromium (Erin Brockovich), etc.?

        As for the health problems of your friends and family, my point is that you should try to convey one message or the other but not both in the same post. The first half of your post is about how ridiculous our health care and insurance systems are. GREAT, I’m totally on board with that. The second half of your post–well, I’m not sure what you’re trying to convey. That you’re unlucky to know so many people with such serious health problems? Are you venting to relieve stress? I just don’t know.

        And you’re right, I’m relatively young, but I do have parents, a grandparent, older friends, friends’ parents, etc. Some people I know, or know of, have died from costly, long-term illnesses but I know many older people who are more or less in good health. You somehow don’t seem to know any. If your point is that every individual in the world is likely going to require multi-million dollar operations or drug regimens, then we might as well give up now because no health care system, no matter how well-organized, is going to be able to sustain that burden. There simply isn’t enough money in the world.

        • rivka says:

          To my mind, the odds seem vanishingly small that out of all the chemicals in the world, the MOST carcinogenic one also just HAPPENS to be an effective cancer drug.

          So I take it you have little or no understanding of how cancer drugs work, or of basic biochemistry?

  14. Dougall says:

    Yes Canada has wonderful health care, but it is pretty new, and we had to fight for it – just like our American neighbors will.

    I am about 56, and what I would call healthy. I have had lots of injuries from very physical jobs (two serious and back injuries, and I have lost count of the fractures – seven I think). I’ve had bursitis, tennis elbow, bronchitis and pneumonia (sorry – not all at once – spread out through my life). I’ve had a hernia repair, half a dozen minor surgeries, and I see my doctor about every three or four months for checkups and whenever I have a medical concern. If I don’t think I should wait the week it will take to see my doctor, I can go to a walk in clinic, or to the hospital emergency.

    In my medium size city the emergency waiting time for non urgent care has been about one to two hours (in my experience) but if I come in with chest pains or trouble breathing I’ll be helped immediately. Don’t believe the BS you hear about wait times! My mother had hip replacement, and later a pacemaker and it did take a couple of months for her to get these.

    The direct cost to me? Zero. No one asked me if I had an insurance plan, and the only thing the hospital had to do was look at my Ontario hospital card (looks like a driver’s license). Yes it gets paid for by taxes and employer charges, but I think the costs are reasonable.

    I will never be blacklisted because of a medical condition, no matter how severe.

    I feel deeply sorry for you and all of our American friends who have no health coverage, or are forced into bankruptcy by health costs. You have a great country, and you are good people. You deserve much better.

    It was not always like this here. A great man called Tommy Douglas started public health care in the province of Saskatchewan in 1962. there was tremendous opposition including the infamous doctor’s strike. His government still made it happen. The success of the programme in Saskatchewan led to federal support for similar provincial programmes in other provinces, and eventually to the Canada Health act mandating care for all Canadians.

    Polls here have consistently found that we consider our health care system the MOST important thing our government does for Canadians, followed by our peacekeeping efforts abroad. We are always vigilant for efforts to re start private health care here (anything like that makes peoples blood boil!)

    It did not come without a fight, but it is possible. I and many others here support your struggle, and wish you the best. Have a look at these to articles – you may find them enlightening:

    Here’s a quote about the cost of care:
    Currently in Ontario, people who earn salaries above $20,000 must pay an annual health care premium ranging from $300–$900. Funding for medicare in Ontario also comes in part from a dedicated Employer Health Tax (EHT) that ranges from 0.98%-1.95% of employer payroll. Eligible employers are exempted from EHT on the first $400,000 of payroll. British Columbia and Quebec charge similar premiums. Alberta charged $44 a month or $88 per family until it abolished premiums in 2009.

    Downtowner, you have my sympathy and support, and as must be obvious, that of a great many of your countrymen. I wish you the best.

    Also a side note to those who cast aspersions about the likelihood of multiple family health emergencies – It happens all the time! If it has never happened to your family, you are lucky, but it has happened to mine and many others I know. Take a better look around at the families of your friends and acquaintances!

    Last little thing to think about – the only time I have seen doctors or hospitals advertise is in the US (we do have single line yellow page listings so you can find them, but that’s it!). Hospitals don’t need to advertise. When people get sick they go to the hospital!

    I’m not sure if it’s still illegal for doctors to advertise, but I think most people find (including doctors) find it unprofessional and demeaning.

    Guess where the money for those big billboards and slick TV ads come from – I’ll let you figure it out.

    Don’t give up – fight for what you deserve!

    • Downtowner says:

      Dougall, Thanks for your comment. I would give anything for a Canadian-style system here, any sane person who has gone to the trouble to look at Canada’s health care and compare it to ours would. Yet, you are right, it’s become a right-wing talking point, based in their usual scare tactics and a lot of misinformation to ask “Do you want to end up with a system like Canada’s?”

      A lot of that, as you have noted, is based in trying to convince Americans that Canadians are dying on doctor’s doorsteps while enduring what they’d have us believe are horrendous wait-times. Which is of course ridiculous. I spend a great deal of time travelling in rural communities in the Midwest, right here in the States, interviewing community members and leaders, and can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve heard the plea for local doctors and medical facilities closer to home, because if you live in a rural area in the States, you have to travel – or endure long wait times – for medical care. As a planner, I’ve come to view lack of medical facilities and personnel close to home (which necessarily leads to lengthier wait times) as a challenge endemic to rural areas throughout North America, and certainly not a problem isolated to Canada. The best and the greatest numbers of medical facilities and practitioners are concentrated in dense urban centers. Just as true in the US as it is in Canada. As a planner I wish I had a magic wand to wave to solve this dilemma for rural residents, but there simply isn’t a “silver bullet” solution.

      As for the pushback to this post, I have now seen comments ranging from someone calling me a “Welfare Queen” to my own new critic in this blog who I believe has done as much as he can to first infer, then imply that I am a fat, lazy, lying hypochondriac who needs healthier friends, to people who are stating they are skeptical of anything on the internet and believe it to be entirely make believe. I mentioned that last – the “entirely make-believe” comment to my daughter the other day. Kate’s response was simple and it wrung my heart, because in the end she will always be my baby, because I’m just a Mom after all, and it hurts me personally that she’s had to face both my and her own health care crises at very young ages. Her response to the conjecture by some that this post is “make believe” was this:

      “Wouldn’t that be nice?”

      If I needed any further reason to fight for the healthcare I think I – and all my fellow citizens – deserve, the wistful tone in her voice when she said it would supply all the motivation I could ever need.

      But your encouragement helps a great deal too – so I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

      • Ruckus says:

        Thought I’d leave another note for you, even if it has been a little while since this was posted.
        Had a Canadian friend who broke his leg – double compound fracture, in the US. He did not want to be treated in the US for a pretty serious injury, he wanted to hire a plane to take him home so he could get better and free health care.
        I’m sitting here writing this with the flu or whatever I have. No insurance, no medicare (not quite old enough yet). Have a customer who came down with the swine flu and is recovering nicely so I’m wondering, what do I do. Do I risk not getting checked out and hope it’s just the regular flu? What a great country we have here, one of our founding principals is that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Well I’m not sure I’m going to live, I sure don’t feel free because I have to worry all the time about right number one, and I know it doesn’t say I have to be happy only have the right to pursue it, but tell me how I do that given I don’t have any idea about rights one and two?

        Anyway haven’t heard any more about you and how you’re doing so I thought I’d ask. How’s it going?

        • Downtowner says:

          Hi, Just saw this – haven’t been back this way in a while. Ho[pe you are feeling better. Know just how you feel with the, I’m sick, but can’t find out what it is thing.

          I’m doing okay – kicking and screaming as usual! Went to see my congressman last week – week before last? – and missed him, but had a long talk with a staffer and learned he’s still in support ofa public option. We all just need to keep fighting, although some days it just seems way too tiring.

          Feel better soon!

  15. wombat says:

    I’m crying. In sadness, in empathy, and in fear. Like someone above, I found you through a link posted on LJ, and signed up on WordPress so I could post a reply to you.

    1) Thank you for writing this
    2) Thank you for fighting for us all despite your own health issues and responsibilities to family, your own life and more
    3) I wish you the best of health and happiness, not to mention the miracle of good health coverage
    4) I must tell you, briefly, that I am terrified by your story. I am recently laid off from a major corporation, after my benefits from that job saw me through a sudden, unexpected and major illness, Central Nervous System Vasculitis. I too had to take chemo to get into remission, and hope to stay in remission but will never be cured. I live in Seattle. My husband’s small company has benefits but they suck. I am very afraid of what will happen when (if) I find a new job and have to change to a new insurer. My husband’s health isn’t great, and as we age neither of us is going to get healthier. I don’t post anywhere about my illness under my real name, in fear that it might keep me from getting a decent job with benefits that will keep me and my husband alive.

    Your post details consequences and future possibilities for me that, as I said, terrify me. I have been doing what I can to support the growing effort for real healthcare reform in the US, but clearly I need to do much much more.

    5) I am unable to refrain from saying, briefly, regarding the poster above who was so disdainful of your story and your writing: in trying to be charitable in my heart I will simply wish for that person that they never have to learn by personal experience the simple truths you so eloquently voiced here. But I’ll add that such arrogance and lack of empathy is, I believe, a large part of the reason we lack a decent healthcare system today. It sometimes seems that only those who have actually been through it understand how broken our system is. I know that my own experiences changed my outlook, and I was as far left as it’s possible to be, even before I got sick. Enough of that.

    I’m with your daughter: wouldn’t it be nice if this were fictional. (not to be soggy all over your post but that made me cry all over again.)

    Thank you for kicking my butt into working harder to get us all what we all need, including those who are healthy at the moment: healthcare that isn’t profit-driven.

    Please accept whatever type of blessing is appropriate for your life, from my heart.

  16. […] from policies or increasing rates are legal and legitimate (at least sometimes).  But as this story illustrates, insurance companies are more than willing to use quasi-legal and ethically scum-bag […]

  17. […] story, and it was totally worth it; if you’d rather not give them the clicks, it’s also here. But do read it, and if you still think people being umbilically dependent on their jobs for their […]

  18. […] a new child to care for, I am concerned about the course of heathcare in this country. I found this story sad and affecting: The comments are interesting reading, as well. Posted on July 14, 2009 at 12:48 […]

  19. […] from policies or increasing rates are legal and legitimate (at least sometimes).  But as this story illustrates, insurance companies are more than willing to use quasi-legal and ethically scum-bag […]

  20. […] This story was passed on to me, and left me disturbed and angry.   The problem with insurance and health care is not just with the uninsured, or the under-insured, but is very real even for those with the best insurance policies. […]

  21. […] from policies or increasing rates are legal and legitimate (at least sometimes).  But as this story illustrates, insurance companies are more than willing to use quasi-legal and ethically scum-bag […]

  22. […] This story was passed on to me, and left me disturbed and angry.  The problem with insurance and health care is not just with the uninsured, or the under-insured, but is very real even for those with the best insurance policies. […]

  23. […] This story was passed on to me, and left me disturbed and angry.  The problem with insurance and health care is not just with the uninsured, or the under-insured, but is very real even for those with the best insurance policies. […]

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