I follow politics. Or rather, I live with someone who follows politics, so every nuanced caveat of every single major bill in Congress is a blockbuster Imax JAWS kind of moment in my household. Brian looks at Gwen Ifill like other guys check out centerfolds. If Jon Stewart has said it, he’s heard it and repeated it to me. I hear about everything going on in Washington. I know what’s up, is all I’m trying to say.
With that in mind, I just wanted to review some facts with you people. In December of 2009, I packed up all of my personal effects, cat and aforementioned CSPAN junkie and moved to California. I quit my job, too. Bold move, I’d say, during a recession. We’d saved enough money to live on in the event I didn’t find work right away. We left our family, our friends, all of our non-material life back there in Boston and have been partying it up, CA-style for the last 2 months. We started getting our ducks in a row fairly recently, doing adult things like applying for jobs and whatnot. One thing We both made sure to do was apply for health insurance through Anthem Blue Cross, a large heath-insurance provider here in the Golden State. I bet you know where this is going.
I have seasonal allergies, treated over the counter. I’ve never had an irregular pap smear. I have never been pregnant. I have never broken a bone. No clubbed feet, no genetic disorders, no weird skin rashes, no STDs. I get 2 pretty major sinus infections a year, which generally lead to two epic yeast infections, from the antibiotics, treated over the counter if possible (totally normal behavior, for those of you without a vagina or a sensitivity to penicillin). I’ve been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and clinical depression, treated with therapy and medication for the last 2 or so years. Estimated numbers of Americans treated with this same disease are somewhere between 14.5 million and 20 million, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (estimates including undiagnosed or untreated sufferers double). I’m in good company, healthwise, is what I’m getting across here.
I was quoted by Anthem at about $70 per month. Reasonable, for generic coverage and low-level doctor visits. I filled out my medical history to the best of my knowledge, and waited. I’d stocked up on my meds before I left, so there was no real rush, assuming I didn’t find any lumps in my breast or fetuses in my uterus. I got a phone call about a week after I applied, with a nurse asking me about basic gynecological questions (endometriosis, controlled and treated since ’05) and it was no big deal. Then I heard from Rose, an RN for Anthem, about a week after that. She had a list of every single prescription drug I’d been on in the last 7 years. I’m not a hypochondriac or anything, but I get the occasional UTI, yeast infection, sinus infection, ear infection, whatevs. Nothing too extreme for a person with allergies 3 seasons strong. I had to give an explanation for every single instance of prescription drug use I’d had over the last seven years. Yeah, okay, like I remember taking amoxcillin my freshman year of college. So I gave her as detailed a rundown as I could remember, the cause for every script for hydrocortisone, fluconazole, nasal decongestants, everything I could remember. I explained to her what lichen sclerosus was and why I was undergoing treatment for it. We got down and dirty in my mental health history, going over the handful of drugs I’d tried to convince my brain that, yes, if you get out of bed this morning, things will be okay.
Around that phone call, Brian received his adjusted quote from Anthem’s underwriting team, saying his payments jumped from $58 to $198 based upon his medical history. In the 7 years we’d been together, Brian has been on prescription drugs once that I can remember- a stint with the skin-clearing Acutane for his really vivid acne problem. This single instance of prescription drug use caused his premium to almost quadruple. I started to worry that I’d never find coverage for less than like, maybe $600 a month.
My fears were unfounded. I should have worried instead that I couldn’t find coverage at all. Anthem rejected my application based on my mental health history, as well as “repetitive yeast infection occurrence.” They gave me some guidelines on when to reapply:
Anxiety/depression must be stable, with only 5 visits in the last 12 months and 1 visit in the last 3 months (in my experience, I’ve had to meet for psychopharm evaluations every 6-8 weeks to monitor the effects of my meds) (also, what does “stable” anxiety or depression mean? Isn’t that the problem, that you’re not stable?!).
Must also be sign, symptom and treatment free from the yeast infection for 3 to 6 months.
I’m lucky, in that my father is gainfully employed at a company with decent insurance, and recent laws insist that parents can cover their kids up to age 25 under their employer’s policy. He got up in that this morning, and I can go back to having anxiety attacks in shopping malls and vaginal discharge with reckless abandon.
But, during this period of depression, recession, whatever you want to call it, many people aren’t so lucky. Many sick people aren’t so lucky. Many people who need the help. Wanting health care reform doesn’t mean I want to tax the rich (even though I totally do) or take handouts from people who aren’t willing to give them. I’m not a socialist. I just want to pay a reasonable amount each month for a corporation to underwrite my already-unaffordable healthcare.
Sure, I’m depressed. Sure, my vagina sometimes gets a mind of her own. These aren’t uncommon, incurable diseases that pose significant financial risk to a trillion dollar industry. A pap smear costs $500, and women are supposed to get them once a year. If I could afford that without the help of corporate hacks, I’d try to find a way, trust me. Basic, non emergent healthcare is expensive, and throw in a chronic disease here and there and you’re bankrupt.
I’m also not asking for a public option (although I’d welcome it with chocolate, roses and kisses). I’m not asking for the government to support my unpredictable serotonin levels, I’m asking for them to tell a company that they can’t take advantage of me anymore, then drop me like I’m hot when the going gets tough.
Ignorance is bliss for so many Americans. So many of us are content to believe rumors death panels and listen to whatever Glenn Beck or Sarah Palin spout. It’s easy to have others make significant decisions for us. But, we all get older. We have to give birth (many insurance policies do not cover maternity care, or view pregnancy as a pre-existing condition), our vision goes, we get moles, we get arthritis. We need help paying for the expense of a satisfying lifespan. This is just not right.
So, Internet. Do me a favor, and yourself a favor too, and do some research into what all of this means for you. What this will mean for you, as you sire children with problematic tonsils or worse. What this will mean for you as you get older and your body or mind fails you. If you lose a close family member and fall into a dark hole you can’t climb out of. Our lives, our health, our physical and mental well-being, are being made into a commodity by a company without much medical authority. Please join me in the battle to remedy this problem. Reform is necessary, we’re losing our chance.