On Health Care

I debated about whether to post this because it’s a sore subject for me, and I will have to get personal before you understand how deep my anger runs. So if you have no taste to learn some disquieting facts about my life, then perhaps you should click away.

Now then. I read this and I nearly went blind with rage. (Link courtesy of Carolyn Jewel) For the love of all that’s holy, people who are sick should NOT have to fight the insurance battle while they are also fighting for their very lives. It’s all kinds of wrong. An astronomical number of people cannot even afford health insurance. Some qualify for Medicare or Medicaid. But even more do not for various reasons. They fall through the cracks. So in this festering mess, there used to be the bright spot of, well, if you’re covered at least you’re set. NOT ANYMORE. Now insurance companies will take your money happily… unless you need to file claims. And then they will dump your asses faster than a dirty diaper.

I have no words for how wrong this is. It lights me up like the 4th of July. I’m so mad I can’t sleep right now, which is why I’m about to rant. And share.

When I was pregnant with my first child, it all went pretty well. Right up until the delivery. I was in labor for 25 hours. They eventually had to perform a C-section. My doctor was not available so they tapped a random resident who had NEVER PERFORMED THE SURGERY BEFORE. She butchered me. I have nerve damage; there are places on my stomach where I can only feel pressure, not pain. After the surgery, I asked them not to give me narcotics. I typically cannot take them well. They told me I must take them, and forced Vicodin on me. I did not react well to it. Before I left the hospital, I weighed more than I did before the baby was born. I told the nurse this was wrong. She said, no, a certain amount of weight gain from fluid is normal.

Only it was NOT. They sent me home. I kept gaining more and more fluid at an astronomical rate. By the time I was rushed back to the hospital, I had gained a hundred pounds in water, and my lungs filled. My heart stopped. My oxygen levels were down to nothing. I woke up in the cardiac unit. I had suffered complete cardiovascular failure; at that time I discovered I have a congenital heart defect, WPW, which had gone undiagnosed until the drug taxed my system with a horrendous allergic reaction. (The defect has always been asymptomatic and still is to this day, apart from my body’s response to Vicodin.)

They denied all wrongdoing. But here’s a fact. I had to choose that hospital because it was in my network. I had NO CHOICE but to take that resident to butcher me because she was in my network. I had NO CHOICE but to listen to that nurse, who forced Vicodin on me and who did not listen when I told her before I went home that there was a problem and I didn’t feel right. The insurance system nearly killed me.

Later, when I had my second child, due to insurance, they forced me to labor to deliver vaginally even though I had suffered nerve damage in the C-section, DUE TO INSURANCE. Later, the doctor told me I’d had less than a 33% chance of delivering that way, due to my past medical history and the permanent harm inflicted on me. But my daughter and me? We beat the odds. I did it. I suffered injury (not an episiotomy) that required stitches, but I did it! Fucking bastards. And I am still proud of that success to this day. But with better insurance? They most likely would have just induced and taken her. I would not have labored for 17 hours, due to health risks. But the company I had at the time cared more about minimizing cost than safeguarding my life.

My experience is not unique. Carolyn Jewel nearly died too. Due to insurance. The system is broken. And I am fiercely furious right now about the women who have breast cancer, who are fighting the toughest battle of their lives, and who have been betrayed by the “most civilized country in the world.” As I said on Twitter, running health care for money is beyond immoral. If it’s for profit, it’s not for people.

Posted in about me, opinion, rant

24 Responses to On Health Care

  1. Oh, Ann, that’s horrible what happened to you. I’m so sorry you went through that. And so relieved to hear you lived! OMG how scary.

    Insurance has always been my hot button. I just got booted off of Medicaid because I’m doing better with my writing (though it’s still considered poverty by government standards). And I can’t buy insurance with a pre-existing condition. So I’m a single mom paying $500 a month for meds and hoping I don’t get sick/hurt. Well, until this reform comes…sigh.

    And my friend has leukemia and her insurance company is being a total dick while she’s trying to stay alive. It does make me livid. I could go on about myself or people I know…it effects so many people.

    (hugs to you and everyone who’s been dicked over by insurance companies)

  2. Ann Aguirre says:

    Shelli, I’m so sorry to hear about you and your friend.

    I am super proud of what’s going on in Mexico right now. They’re working on a social medicine program, and my husband’s company, Bruluart, is a part of that.

    They manufacture medicines, and one of their subsidiary companies is a pharmacy chain. At every single pharmacy, they keep a physician on staff. The company basically eats his salary to make medicine and health care more accessible to the poor. An office visit at Farmacia Gi? It’s 20 pesos. I went there when I broke my foot to see how it was. And honestly I liked that doctor better than anyone I’d seen in the country. He was kind and knowledgeable. Twenty pesos is less than two dollars.

    You can get an exam from him and then buy your medicines right there. Bruluart works to keep them low-cost, as they are part of an ‘equal generic’ program. And I am SO proud that my husband is helping people whose children would otherwise never get any treatment at all.

  3. Anna says:

    Oh, Ann, I’m so sorry to hear about your experiences. I can’t believe they told you that much weight gain after giving birth was normal!

    I’ve always been thankful to live in Canada. Our medical system isn’t perfect, but if I need medical attention for whatever reason, I’m entitled to it for free without battling insurance companies. I wish everyone had the same freedom.

  4. Annmarie says:

    I’ve been lucky in that my insurance is run by the company I worked for & was pro woman. Sadly, that company downsized last year. In June my Cobra runs out & I will be uninsured. That really scares me.

    As it is w/gov’t subsidies Cobra is $300/month. Maximum unemployment pay in GA is $300/week. So a quarter of my income each month goes to insurance. I feel lucky to even have the opportunity.

    Ann, your story is horrifying. I don’t understand how something like that could happen in a ‘civilized’ nation.

    I’ve recently (due to being jobless) had the opportunity to think about the situation my country is in. Bottom line, we are infested with greed.

    Everything has to be the biggest & the best. Being able to afford the biggest & the best is not even considered.

    If you look at home sizes today, they are completely oversized. Much like everything else here. (Yes, McDonalds, I’m talking to you.) And this overindulgence is killing us…physically, financially & morally.

    Healthcare is a symptom of a bigger problem: moral decay brought on by greed.

    I am saddened by the corrupt state my country is in. I fear we have ruined ourselves beyond all hope.

  5. Katie says:

    Ann – I can’t even imagine your experience. I am glad that you and your children are survivors of it.

    I can’t agree more that the system is broken in the US and needs to be fixed.

    Katie

  6. Clothdragon says:

    Well said.

    I unfriended someone on facebook the other day because this issue is so important to me that counter-arguments sound like defending murder for money in my head. One of my friends lost a baby, half her set of twins, so she can never forget or put it behind her, completely because the insurance company was trying to save money, so I no longer feel able to speak rationally about the issue. It’s nice to read something that includes the emotion I have, but can also retain the rationality I’ve lost. (She had been due the same week I was, but had her babies more than month early, so that might be part of what makes it so emotional for me.)

  7. Joe Iriarte says:

    “Running health care for money is beyond immoral. If it’s for profit, it’s not for people.”

    Well said.

  8. OH, Ann, what a nightmare! Good for you for ranting. I’m thankful you and your kids survived that! And how cool is that, what your husband is doing.

    How many enraging stories need to be told before this is corrected? It boggles the mind.

  9. Shéa says:

    I really feel for you and what you’ve been through. I come from an extreme right wing family who firmly, if irrationally, believes that national healthcare for ALL people is somehow akin to inviting Communists to dinner and that if you aren’t rich enough to afford healthcare and pay for surgeries, then it’s your fault you’re poor and lazy. There’s nothing I can say or do that will ever change their minds.

    ARRRRRGH!!!!!

    After living the past 3 1/2 years in a country with national healthcare, the US healthcare/insurance system and many of my fellow countrymen’s attitudes toward it seem positively barbaric. That any civilized country would allow ANY of their number to suffer in such a way is beyond me.

  10. I saw red when I read that article, too. And I get incoherent when I hear US Senators talk about repealing what little we did get. I find it unconscionable that a bunch of privileged, well-insured white men think there’s no problem and that it’s GOOD to put profits before lives.

    For any insurance company to proactively search their claims for cancer victims and look for ways to drop their coverage is despicable. And it’s not like it was isolated. It was calculated and deliberate, and WellPoint isn’t the only company doing this.

    The fact is, if health care is run for profit, then lives will be second to profits.

  11. Ann in my entire lifetime of being a US citizen it has and always will upset me that money is the bottom line for almost everything in our country, not just healthcare. When in my early twenties and just married for a few years, insurance company stupidity almost lost me my young husband. We were living in a small south Texas town with a tiny hospital at the time, it was provided ER care by rotating out Doctors from the nearby naval base. My Husband is a lifelong Asthmatic and had to go to the ER because he was in tremendous pain in his lower back and OTC meds did not control it. We went in and he was seen and told that they were going to do an Xray and use an Intravenous Dye to see what was going on. They did not do a skin patch because the insurance protocol did not allow it to see if the dye would cause any allergic reaction, is did and in the process put my DH into respiratory arrest. The idiot Navy doctor did not have a clue what to do and came running out to the waiting room telling me my husband was not breathing and if we had not had his rescue inhaler and the nurse would not have suggested a inhaled breathing treatment of steroidal medication he would have died that day. As it was we did find out he had a Kidney Stone and also he was highly allergic to the Iodine Dye. The blame is squarely on the policy “allowed” by insurance at the time (1986), it has gotten even worse since on what can and cannot be done without prior approval for treatment and I am scared to go see a doctor anymore!!!

    jackie b central texas

  12. Ann Aguirre says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your stories with me.

    Carolyn C., I am so proud of what’s going on. The doctor at Farmacia Gi referred me to get X-rays at a little building down the way, and then I came back for him to read them. I did, indeed, have a broken foot (I had been hobbling around on it for over a week, wondering why it wasn’t getting better.) Then I bought my pain medicine at the farmacia onsite. Cost? 8 pesos per box. That’s about $.65. I could have gone to the hospital and used our insurance here, but I wanted to see what the program they were building here was like. And honestly? It was better than the hospital, less frightening and intimidating.

  13. Holy shit, Ann. I had a lot of respect for you before, but you’ve taken me to a new height. You SO rock, woman.

    (and I am SO grateful for my health care right now, which has not let me down despite all the issues I’ve got.)

  14. pamela bennett says:

    Wow. That enrages me so much, to hear your story. You and your daughter should have been treated like the precious life you are–all important above and beyond money.
    I am reading your first novel right now, and became curious so I read your blog.
    Wow.
    I hope you wiil forgive me, if, as an older woman, I also suggest that it is the medical establishment itself that is also to blame. The arrogance of that nurse, and the refusal to admit wrongdoing of any kind is typical of a mentality that preserves the old system that is inflexible and puts profit first, patients second.
    We ourselves accidentally contribute when we accept their advice because they have the weight of the medical community behind it. I hope that this experience gave you the power to override that advice when your instincts tell you to, such as not taking the vicodin and continuing to complain.
    Writing letters calling people etc.
    I myself have had unnecessary surgeries performed on me and other unethical practices performed on me as well, and I am now empowered enough to more or less be as in charge as possible.
    I no longer trust the medical community completely. Their training cuts them away from the connection to the patient that would make them trustworthy and instead cultivates a patronizing attitude that is dangerous as hell.
    I am glad you survived it and your daughter.
    I will read more of your blogs.

  15. janicu says:

    This scares the hell out of me. I’ve already dealt with this too with my sister and her many health issues. Not as bad as these stories but I believe the money is more important than the people in this racket. I lost my innocence about this a long time ago.

    I pretty much had to call and call and call the insurance company for them to FINALLY cover her (and I think it was to just stop me calling). It’s not really fair to be 22, taking care of your 18 year old sister, calling COBRA because she’s supposed to be on your parents account and they’re overseas so can’t help you. ARGH. Last year, because of insurance they kicked her out of supposed “long term program” (I don’t want to go into detail about her health problems) that was supposed to be 8 months and was more like 3, and then she was HOMELESS. Wonderful! Sick person, no place to live! And no warning of course. I blame the hospitals just as much as the insurance people. Don’t tell me she can stay 8 months when that’s BS.

  16. What happened to you is beyond heartbreaking, Ann. :(

    The insurance mess is in this country is awful and it’s so broken, I don’t know what will fix it-not government, not anything.

    But what this company is doing is so beyond wrong it’s pathetic-I hope and pray something is done about it.

    Some harsh and serious penalties need to handed out here, and not money-making them pay fines isn’t enough, not IMO. They are playing with people’s lives, and money is paltry when lives are on the line.

  17. Rachel says:

    Socialized medicine is treated as a dirty word here in the US. Socialism is a bad, bad, thing! But, I think we need it. Yes, Canada, Great Britain have issues, no system is perfect, but better then we have now. Most people I know who are on medicare, medicaid, social security depend on those services (and said services have their inspiration from socialism!). We need a single payer option now. The VA does a good job here in Boise. I think of them as a good baseline imagine what a single payer option would look like. The people who don’t want that: Let them keep their private insurance policy.
    It’s ironic how the people who freak out the most are the ones who could benefit the most from it. I live in Idaho, a very red (and white) state, where our “wonderful” governor is going to sue the federal government over healthcare. Nevermind that they just cut funding for education (another thing that really pisses me off). It doesn’t seem like there is a lot we can do, except for speaking up when we need to and hoping the people we elected listen to us and not their pocketbooks or who donates the most money to their campaign.

  18. Jackie,

    I don’t normally comment on posts about political matters, but one thing I want to say about one particular way in which things are broken: What happened to you is awful, but the worst part is that if you had lost your husband, and if your health insurance would have been provided by your insurer, you would not have been able to sue the health insurance, even though it was THEIR policy that caused your harm.

    Little known federal statute called ERISA, and a supreme court decision that held it preeempted state law, including state lawsuits brought (for instance) for wrongful death. End result is that ERISA generally bars suits for employment benefits.

    This means that health insurance companies essentially have a ton of immunity from suit, since most of their clients are employers.

  19. Lo Lopez says:

    Ugh. Health insurance is the bane of my existence. Our baby was born with an incredibly severe case of Tetralogy of Fallot and an ASD so we’ve been through the ringer during the last 7 months. During the first three months of Nyx’s life, she racked up half a million dollars in bills. Our supposedly “awesome” insurance policy left us owing nearly 20K of that and I was able to persuade the billing departments to settle for about half. In March she had her open heart surgery/complete repair. That two week stay (complete with life threatening complications) will probably cost a million or so. We’re already on the line for 30K of the claims that have been processed because our policy doesn’t cover certain things like, oh, anesthesia.

    We’ve had two insurance policies with two different carriers during the last seven months. Both of them refused to cover Synagis, an injectible medicine that prevents RSV. Because Nyx had to see her pediatrician twice a month due to Tet spells and her cardiologist monthly, if not biweekly, she absolutely needed this medicine. The risk of contracting the virus from other patients at these doctor’s offices was high. Even after filing appeals, we were told no.

    So what did we do? Well. We cleaned out our savings to pay for 5 months of shots at $5666 a piece. Yes. That’s right. Point seven-five milligrams of medication cost nearly $6000.

    I try not to think about what we’re going to do if Nyx hits her lifetime maximum soon. We make too much money (Ha!) for CHIP or Medicaid and our state’s AG is suing the government over the health care reform bill so who the hell knows if any of the changes will take affect here.

  20. Sorwen says:

    It is awful some of the thing that happen when they shouldn’t. People have health care for that very reason. That is one of the things I dislike about the health care plan. It doesn’t really attempt to try to put in motion anything that will actually fix problems with the health care system. As the article you linked to shows too many of them are not what either insurance companies, hospitals, or pharmaceutical companies want and the reforms we need get blocked. This is a great country we live in but too often it seem that Lincoln’s quote if said today would be “Government of big business, by big business, for big business”.

    I’ve almost quit going to the doctor unless it is life threatening because often they don’t even bother actually trying to diagnose the problem. Instead they give you whatever drug is most popular for your symptoms and send you home. I’ve know several people that have been misdiagnosed for years because one doctor or another either didn’t know or didn’t want to admit to not knowing why they had the problems they had. If a few of those instances if they would have been diagnosed correctly early they would not be in the positions they are in now.

  21. Debra says:

    Anne,

    Thank you for posting your story. I have worked in health care (physical therapy) for 20 years and am so frustrated now by the for profit system that I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be able to hang in there.It seems that care is doled out in a totally random way and everywhere, everywhere, corners are cut, mistakes are made, everything is rushed and I scramble to see all the people I am supposed to see. You said what I’ve been feeling for years, health care for profit is immoral. Thank you for saying that.

    Oh, I just discovered you as an author. I love the Corrine Solomon books, and am starting on Ava Gray. You rock!

  22. garrie keyman says:

    Ann, I stopped by because your agent responded positively to a query I sent her, and so I became more curious about the writers she represents. I am charmed by your website and was moved by this blog entry — one of the first I’ve read so far.

    I am moved because of your story, your willingness to share it, and your position on the issue. It is great you share thoughts in your blog other than merely reflects your writing career.

    I loved reading all the thought-provoking responses and was touched by the strength and stores these ladies shared. Lo — been there done that: one of my sons is a life long heart patient who got his first pacemaker at 16 days of age (he is due for his eighth). Before he was months old the hospital bills passed the million dollar mark. My heart goes out to you and your daughter and your family as you navigate these trying times in your lives and my best to you and her for a safe and as speedy resolution as possible under the circumstances.

    So much was said here and said well. Thanks for sharing. Thanks, Ann, for opening the topic.

  23. Jocelyn Z. says:

    I used to follow you on twitter, and stopped by to see what’s on tap with “Shady Lady” – and stumbled onto this post.

    I have stories I could tell about my Mom’s healthcare, and my friends, and medical bankruptcies, and compromised care, but the thing that pops into my mind first is “this is why big companies and their politicians hate trial lawyers.” Honestly, with an entrenched for-profit insurance system like we have in the US right now, there are no options for redress aside from suing the bastards. I’m scared to even think about what would happen to our health care if that narrow bit of leverage the consumer has was taken away.

    But politicians (and not just Republicans!) rail against trial lawyers all the time, and medical malpractice is one of the main areas they rail against.

    Fixing the system from the ground up by providing a public healthcare option would be a better solution (and how awesome is your husband to be working on something similar in Mexico – go Mr. Aguirre’s company!) but FFS, you don’t fix a fire by shooting the fireman.

  24. Pingback: Health care in the US. Again. « Her Hands, My Hands

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