Location: Granite Falls, North Carolina, United States

I'm an ordained United Methodist minister no longer pastoring churches, a former media producer with skills ten years out of date, a writer trying to sell my first novel, and a sales associate keeping body and soul together working for the People's Republic of Corporate America. I'm married to the most wonderful woman in the world, who was my best friend for 17 years before we married.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

On Health Insurance

My 1991 Mazda 626 is in pretty good shape. It has only 204,000 miles on it (note to self: Schedule an oil change for it and the truck), so it's in its prime.

The only thing is, it needs some work. In July the air conditioner compressor burned out, and there's a $500 dent in the front fender. I need a new radio antenna, too.

Now, do I trade cars, or do I keep this one a while longer. Two friends have Miatas for sale, and I need another convertible.

This brings me to today's topic. I can't afford to trade cars right now because I have too many unpaid medical bills. I still owe the dentist $800, I owe the hospital several hundred from an ER visit in January when I had a spell of vertigo, we are paying lab co-payments from the past year, and now my wife had to go to the ER Monday with gall bladder pain. We went back for an ultrasound this morning, and the gall bladder is normal, thank goodness.

But I also need extensive dental work, despite the daily calcium I take. I went to the dentist I have been seeing, and they wanted $2700 up front before he would start work. So I went to another dentist. She will work out a more reasonable payment schedule, but she also found a cyst on my gum which will require surgery, and I don't know if I have insurance to cover that.

So, I can't do what I want or need, because every spare dollar I get has to go to medical bills.

Of course, it could be worse. I could be like my brother-in-law in Charlotte. He had to fight off Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma with no medical insurance. He and my sister will both leave medical bills as part of their estates.

The United States ranks no. 29 in the world (or thereabouts) when it comes to quality of health care, yet we spend more money than any other country. Waiting time for services averages about the same for elective surgery as other countries have, and about the same for all other surgeries.

We are rationing health care the way we ration gasoline in this country. Those who can afford it pay for it, and those who can't pay for it don't get it. At least here in the middle class. The rich can afford it, and the poor use the ER as their primary source of health care. Poor people wait until there is an emergency, rather than get things fixed when it is easier and cheaper. But when you can't afford it, you don't get it. Therefore the rest of us pay for those who can't pay at the ER in the form of higher fees, higher deductibles, higher premiums, and higher CEO salaries for insurance companies.

Blue Cross/Blue Shield has been spending vast sums of money on tropical island outings and sponsorship of golf tournaments instead of reducing premiums or better health care for their customers.

And they have us over a barrel. We either buy their insurance, or we live out our lives fighting off medical bill collectors.

It's time for a change, and the majority of Americans are in favor of such a change.


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