Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Learning to live without health insurance

It's hard to type this way. I write this from my bed, curled fetally around my laptop. It's hard to type this way, but it's the only position in which I can tolerate the pain.

In December, when I first felt this stabbing, throbbing, agonizing pain, I hoped it would pass on its own. I knew what it was. I had been through it once before.

The difference between now and then: Then I had health insurance. (I also had a full-time job, money in the bank and many other things I don't have anymore, but the most relevant difference is health insurance.) I went to doctors; they did various incredibly costly things that were covered 80 percent by my health coverage; and the pain went away.

This time, I prayed, the problem would cure itself. No such luck.

I called the specialist who had treated me the last time. "I don't have medical insurance anymore," I said to the receptionist. "What are my options?" He put me on hold. I expected to hear about payment plans or perhaps be referred to a low-cost clinic.

"The only thing we can suggest," he said, sounding dubious, "is to go to Cook County Hospital."

I made a few more calls. No one had any other suggestions. I didn't know anything about Cook County Hospital, so I turned to my friend Google. But for once, Google let me down.

I learned that the old Cook County Hospital was replaced in 2002 by John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County. I found out that it is at 1901 W. Harrison St., Chicago, an hour's drive from my house. I found out that it's one of two full-service hospitals run by the county but the other one, Provident, is even farther away. I read that Stroger "brings the most up-to-date technology, efficient and contemporary environment to the five million residents of Cook County."

What I did not find was anything official about what it might cost to be treated there, what I could expect as a patient, or how to make an appointment. (Ultimately, I learned that you can't make an appointment.) The only clues as to what treatment might be like, I found on Yelp. Not exactly authoritative.

I phoned, without much better results. I would just have to go there.

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