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May 12, 2021

Window on the World Column: The waiting

By Lucy Jensen, Soledad Columnist

The waiting is the worst. I don’t think there is anyone who would challenge me on that. I get flashbacks to my own cancer diagnosis from 10 years ago. One test slowly crawled to another and you are in the waiting room of your life, imagining that the disease will have spread over your entire body before you have even got to the stage of pre-op. I was about six to eight weeks from diagnosis to surgery and I very nearly lost my mind.

I’m sure we are not alone in our current frustrating situation, nor our now compounding stack of medical bills that promises to grow exponentially over the coming days. I haven’t been in this situation for a while and, I’m remembering now, it’s a frightening and lonely place to be. Fresh on receipt of a near $8,000 — our cost after insurance — emergency visit with husband who is not eligible for unemployment nor disability, being one of the nation’s self-employed; we are swiftly reminded of the need for the rainy day fund, the back-up plan, the blank-blank can and does happen in the blink of an eye.

In my case, going back the 10 years, we were lucky we had things to sell to be able to manage this enormous surprise that hit us like a freight train with my diagnosis and my multi-hospitalizations thereafter. We sold both of our investment properties, our beautiful VW cherry classic ’56 Bug and our super classic ’63 VW split window bus. We had nothing more to sell but our house after that and we were still in debt with medical bills for many years after. Fortunately, and thanks to family generosity, we were able to keep our beloved roof over our heads. But honestly, an unfortunate encounter with illness can push you to that financial cliff over which you could lose absolutely everything — because you get sick? I think there is something wrong with a system that finds that acceptable.

We pay insurance to a company. We have a choice of plan, but no choice of company. Shouldn’t there be a selection of companies, some competition in the health insurance marketplace? Why isn’t there any competition? Are the health insurance lobbyists for that particular carrier so deeply in the pockets of who knows who, that no one questions how this is an equitable situation for the insurance buying public.

Years ago, when I worked for a Fortune 500 company and was blessed with the most amazing insurance package I never appreciated, I paid my small contribution to the insurance and received superb care. The birth of my child, for instance, a C-section with complications, only cost me $500 and I do believe that to be a little low from where I’m currently standing; but I think things have got sorely out of whack in our current situation. Where’s the competition? Where’s the gatekeeper for these preposterous bills that regular people can never pay?

Civilized countries across the world manage a health-insurance-for-all situation. Why can’t we? The folks who can pay some should pay some. I don’t think anyone would argue about that. But, United States style, being forced into a corner when somebody has a heart problem that requires multiple tests and likely procedures, with unaffordable medical bills the result? I see now how people lose everything through medical misfortune. We nearly did 10 years ago, and we still might this time around. We don’t have anything much left to sell, but isn’t that a sad reflection on honest working folk who encounter hard times? We are not young; we have no more investment properties or classic cars to sell. We are just working people who are down on our luck and this misadventure could break us all over again.

Meanwhile, it is fortunate that my husband seldom reads my columns, because he would flip out if he thought that $8,000 was our contribution toward his first of many doc visits this past month or so. I can’t tell him because he is already riddled with anxiety at the waiting that is required within the health system, at his own feelings of inadequacy that he has no money coming in or ability to do anything about that, and I am, meanwhile, trying to cover all bases while we figure out what is wrong.

The referral from one doc leads to the waiting for another doc. “Oh he is booked for another month,” she says. His response: ‘’I might be dead by then. Is there no one else we can see?’’ ‘‘Oh yeah, you can see so and so in three weeks.” What? You try to advocate for your own care, only to be shot down, when there is no one available to see what they deem to be your non-emergency situation; and yet your own clock is ticking and your mortality dangling by a thread.

I know lots of clever people have tussled with this issue over the years. We, as one of the world’s super- powers, should surely be able to figure out a better plan than the one we currently have. Pay your health insurance bill and all will be well, as long as you are; because when you are not, there is a tsunami of horror awaiting you in the mailbox as well as in your imagination, not to mention your financial situation. You are waiting, you are waiting some more; and you feel that no one really cares except for you and your loved ones.

“Yeah, we have to get that approved through your insurance…” What? My life is on the line. “Yeah, we’ll see if the insurance covers that.” I flash back again to arguing with the insurance over the double mastectomy I was demanding, when they just wanted to approve a lumpectomy. The third female in my family to be diagnosed with breast cancer and they didn’t want to give me the operation I needed. I will never forget that.

So, what’s the solution for all the smarty pants to figure out? We definitely need some competition in the health insurance arena — I think that goes without saying. Health care costs need to be reviewed and addressed. (Don’t give me a huge bill without itemizing every darn cost that you put down there!) Working people have no issue paying toward their care; but surely an equitable playing field would be that you contribute toward health care, but it doesn’t entirely take your whole life down the tubes?

Friends of mine in Europe are aghast when I tell them about our health care costs — it literally blows their mind. Their system is not perfect — it certainly is oversubscribed — but neither is ours. I wonder when this topic might become a priority; I’m hoping in my lifetime to see a workable solution. In the meantime, I don’t have the means to pay the $8,000, so I shall no doubt be collecting some bad credit and increased debt, while I strive to heal my husband within this broken, inequitable system.

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