A few months ago, I received a letter indicating that my children are no longer eligible for the income-based, state run health insurance program that has covered them since birth. Suddenly, without warning, they were two of the 50 million + Americans without health insurance coverage. This is totally new territory for me. I don't recall a time when I've ever not been able to whip out a handy card and push it across the desk in a physician's office in lieu of cash. With the girls suddenly "exposed," I've discovered a strange and horrible wasteland of fear mixed with panic. Each time one of them coughs, my heart skips a beat. Each visit to the park, each time I catch my oldest doing headstands in her bedroom I feel a momentary panic at the possibility of freak accidents and broken bones. I've had to delay a dental check up and a physical while I try to figure out exactly how we're going to move back under the safety and comfort we're accustomed to. Adding them to my plan at work would be astronomical therefore out of the question. There's another health plan I can try, designed especially for children with higher income limits but even that's not guaranteed. I applied weeks ago but have yet to hear back.
So currently, we're in limbo. And of course, as luck would have it, I received a call yesterday from my daughter's daycamp that she had cut her leg and needed emergency care. It was as if the entire world went silent for a few moments as the full weight of the poor timing came to rest on my shoulders. It was a though an imaginary meter started running. I've never really paid attention to medical bills, I never really felt need. Regardless of the cause of the visit, I'm accustomed to paying a small copay and continuing with my life. I've only heard dark tales of massive charges for even minor procedures, $100 band-aids, $1,000 Tylenol. I knew immediately that our already shaky financial footing was in jeopardy.
Once I'd collected my little patient, we headed to the doctor's office. I called in advanced to explain the insurance situation just to make sure we wouldn't be turned away and was delighted to find that we were welcome to come in and that I could pay whatever I could afford. Novel! Unfortunately, my elation was short lived when the doctor who examined my daughter's leg promptly announced that they could not mend that sort of tear and that we would indeed have to go to an emergency room. The forms that were passed across the admissions desk felt condemning. I was actually embarrassed to admit that we did not have health insurance and cringed when the nurse scrawled "self pay" across the top. Hours later, we emerged from the ER at our nearest children's hospital with seven stitches closing a deep puncture wound in back of my daughter's leg.
And today, I had a root canal but that's another story!
The most important part of this ordeal is that the incident was not life threatening, that, though it looked bad, the wound in her leg was an easy fix and she had little pain. But, if what I've encountered over the past few months is anything like what families experience who lack insurance I can absolutely understand the push for universal coverage. This really has me wishing I'd paid more attention to all the fine print health care reform bill that passed earlier this year! I'm going to go get a copy to read and hope that, in the meanwhile, we can avoid incident!