Sunday, March 29, 2009

A little help for a few

If you suffered the ravages of the Bush administration, you're still SOL, but if you're brand-new to the unemployment rolls, there's a little help on the health-care horizon.

The Take Care clinics at Walgreens are offering limited free care to select, newly out-of-work folks, or "Terminated Persons," as they call them. The plan seems designed for maximum PR value — "Free care!" — while curtailing the actual number of patients they'll accept to a bare minimum. Here are the generous terms:
  1. Only job losses after March 31, 2009, qualify.
  2. Someone in your immediate family must have been treated at Take Care before your job loss.
  3. You must be collecting unemployment.
  4. You must not have COBRA or any other insurance.
  5. Only the Terminated Person, your legal spouse (or official, same-sex domestic partner) and minor children for whom you are legal guardians qualify.
  6. Any prescriptions the practitioner writes will be charged at regular price.
Take Care offers diagnosis and treatment of minor ailments by nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. Not all their services are covered under this plan. There's a lot of rigmarole to get certified, too. Oh, and free treatment is offered only from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.

I wouldn't rely on Take Care's services instead of signing up for subsidized COBRA, but if you don't qualify for COBRA and meet the other criteria, it might be worth applying.

Otherwise, a visit will cost you $59 to $80. If you don't have a regular doctor, and you sprain your ankle or come down with the runs, it's better than the emergency room.

The website has details.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Sen. Bernie Sanders introduces single-payer bill


Details at Physicians for a National Health Program.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Newly laid-off are in luck

If you are among the newly laid off, consider yourself lucky. It may not feel that way, now, but I'll tell you why you're better off than you think: A new federal subsidy will cover 65 percent of COBRA premiums for nine months for workers who lost their jobs after Sept. 1, 2008. So if you're newly out of work and are eligible, sign up for COBRA within 60 days. (Those who already missed that cut-off might be eligible for a second election opportunity.)

Wait more than 60 days, though, and you may not be able to get health insurance at any cost, and if you do, it may not cover any pre-existing conditions.

I don't begrudge this aid to the most recently laid off, though it seems like a backwards way to go about things to help the most recently troubled first. What about those of us who struggled to pay for COBRA until it ran out?

My efforts to keep my health insurance after losing my job, paying for COBRA and then ICHIP, will, I fear, ultimately lead to my losing my house. We juggled insurance and mortgage payments until we couldn't handle either. The insurance is gone. The house is in danger. I can't find a full-time job — and I can scarcely work or look for one in the shape I'm in right now.

There doesn't seem to be any help for people like me.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Working without a safety net

Jobs in Illinois |
Uninsured Myths No. 2: "Everybody who works for a living is covered." FALSE.

Some conservatives would have you believe that people without health insurance are mainly indigent bums too ignorant to sign up for Medicaid. Not so. A recent study by Families USA showed that four out of five of the uninsured belong to working families.

Another study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation agrees, finding that nearly one in five U.S. workers is uninsured, a significant increase from fewer than one in seven during the mid-1990s, AP reports. "In Illinois, the study found that 16 percent of workers between ages 19 to 64 were uninsured in 2007, the latest year such figures are available. In 1995, 11.6 percent of workers in Illinois were uninsured."

Either their employers don't offer insurance or they can't afford the premiums. And private health insurance is ruinously expensive. According to the foundation, "Average costs for an individual insurance policy have increased 61 percent — from $2,560 in 1996 to $4,118 in 2006. Nationwide, the amount that employees pay for an individual policy has increased 79 percent." That's eight times more than wages have gone up during the same period.

If you can even get private insurance. I couldn't.

If you have any health problems, they won't take you. The video at right tells the story of Dr. Ajit Kesani, a Chicago doctor who can't get affordable health insurance because he has diabetes. Insurance companies may deny you coverage even for less serious conditions that you've recovered from, like a slipped disk or a case of tendinitis.

The state of Illinois sells the Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance Plan, which is available to laid-off workers who've exhausted their COBRA benefits (which means you had to be able to afford COBRA, first) plus a limited number of people who've been turned down by private insurance. But it costs even more than private insurance. For example, the Chicago Tribune's Judith Graham reported, "In Chicago, a 35-year-old woman would pay $564 a month for a HIPAA plan with a $500 deductible, a 50-year-old woman would pay $871 a month and a 62-year-old man would pay $1,384." Multiply those numbers if you're covering a couple or a family. We couldn't keep up.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sickbed reading

Vilostunden by Carl Holsoe

I started this blog, in part, to keep from drifting away ... from losing myself in the red sea of pain and the gray fog of painkillers. An exercise to keep my brain working.

Bits of prose I could have dashed off in minutes six months ago now take grueling hours of pecking at the laptop and endless revising and proofreading. Typing is laborious, but so is thinking. Focus requires energy.

Even reading has become effortful. Books have always been one of the chief pleasures of my life — more than a pleasure, a necessity. I've read rabidly, voraciously, since I first learned to read: on average, probably, four or five books a week. Now, novels I once could've finished in an evening take days, or weeks, and I have trouble following the plot. I've been re-reading old favorites and light fiction, but even they take more concentration than I often have.

The Rainmaker by John Grisham
One of the new books I've got through is The Rainmaker by John Grisham. Maybe it's not new to you. It was a bestseller in 1995, and Francis Ford Coppola made a movie out of it with Matt Damon and Danny DeVito in 1997. We picked a copy up somewhere along the line and apparently lost it in the piles of books around the house.

It resurfaced lately, and it's absorbing enough that it kept my sadly limited attention pretty well through. It moves along. It's written all in the present tense, which gives it a sense of immediacy. And, of course, once I realized what the story was about, I couldn't wait to see what happened next.

The Rainmaker follows a struggling, fledgling ambulance chaser who's landed his first big legal case — a suit against an insurance company that refused to cover a bone-marrow transplant for a leukemia patient, a poor young man now dying for lack of it.

The company has various grounds for denial: The policy didn't cover bone-marrow transplants. (It doesn't say so.) The operation is too experimental. (A half dozen experts say otherwise, and the patient had a perfectly matched donor.) The policy holder failed to disclose a pre-existing condition. (A case of the flu five years before.)

As the case goes on, the insurers and their pack of corporate attorneys dig themselves in deeper, indulging in increasingly desperate dirty tricks as the damning details of company routines come to light. Grisham makes the legal work much more thrilling than I imagine it is in real life.

A couple things are over-the-top — there's a rather gratuitous romance with a woman abused by her husband, and I don't really think all insurance execs are weaselly sexual predators who force themselves on the women who work for them. Yet I absolutely believe nearly everything about insurance industry practices in this book is based on facts. (And that they're even worse today than they were 14 years ago. Grisham was prophetic in some financial details.)

If you don't already, The Rainmaker will make you loathe both lawyers and insurance companies.

I recommend it. If I could afford to, I'd send a copy to every senator and member of Congress.

* * *

Grand RoundsThe next reading I'm tackling is the broad collection of health-care-related blog posts compiled for this week's Grand Rounds, "the weekly rotating carnival of the best of the medical blogosphere," now up at codeblog. My post "15 hours at Stroger Hospital" got a mention. Some of the posts I've read so far make me angry, and I'll probably write something about it here by and by.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Health-care reformers' calendar

OK, I was so perturbed by the paucity of events marking Cover the Unisured Week, I made one up:

Bloggers for National Health Care Day, Saturday, March 28

As the culmination of Cover the Uninsured Week, March 22–28, lend your voice to the call for a national health care system that covers all Americans. Though polls show most Americans believe we need a program that covers everyone, health-care reform is in considerable danger of being turned into a Band-Aid on the present system.

Let your readers know that they need to take action now — contact their legislators and tell them we need health care for all, and it can't wait.

I can't say it's getting a whole lot of attention. But this other event, next month, is real:

Rally for Real Health Reform, Saturday, April 18

Monday, March 23, 2009

If not now, Mark Kirk, when?

"The American people are absolutely ready for action by the White House to fix the economy and to put Americans back to work," Rep. Mark Kirk (R-10th) told NPR, a rather extreme understatement. "But other priorities," he said, "nationalizing health care and on climate change, etc. — this may not be the time."

I'm glad that at least he recognizes nationalized health care as a priority. Yet while Kirk gives lip service to efforts for "Health care for all," his record on the issue doesn't back that up. Nearly two million uninsured Illinoisans are scrambling for medical treatment or doing without. And our situation gets worse daily. Lack of health insurance kills 18 Illinois residents every week.

How many of your constituents must die before you act, Congressman Kirk?

Of course, Kirk needn't worry. He already has nationalized health coverage.

As Monica Sanchez at Insurance Company Rules comments, Kirk and other members of Congress currently enjoy the government-run health-care options that he's in no hurry to get for his constituents:
"Members of Congress and Presidents have a long history of also enjoying the socialized medicine taxpayers provide for them. In fact, members of Congress have the choice many of them want to deny you. They can choose a private health insurance plan through the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program or they can get top-notch medical care at government facilities, like the Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland.

"Many regularly choose the public option. For example:
  • "When John McCain (R-AZ) found a discolored blotch on his left temple he headed to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda to have the spot checked out.

  • "Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had his heart bypass surgery at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.

  • "Former Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) went to Bethesda Naval Medical Center in Maryland complaining of fatigue and subsequently got a new heart valve there...."
Taxpayers subsidize congressional health-insurance premiums by about 75 percent, plus paying for their free treatment at government-run medical centers, as well as another $2 million annually toward the Congressional pharmacy and the team of doctors, technicians and nurses that stands by at the Capitol to provide urgent care and physicals.

Funny, when congressmen criticize the concept of government-run health care plans, they don't seem to offer any bad examples from the one they use themselves.

Of course, GOP congressmen like Kirk's colleague Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) believe that health-care is a "privilege," and if you turn down a chance to buy insurance you can't afford, you shouldn't receive medical treatment. "For some people it's a right, but for everyone, frankly, it's not necessarily a right," Wamp said.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lutheran General: Pay first, and we'll put a Band-Aid on it

Lutheran General Hospital, Park RidgeI save Stroger Hospital's painkillers for the very worst times, eking them out with handfuls of ibuprofen, but by January they're all gone. I hear nothing from the specialty clinic. I rarely reach any live people there, and when I do they can't tell me anything.

Meanwhile, somebody suggests Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge. They have a charity program, we're told. We call. The lady there says we can't find out whether we qualify ahead of time. "Come in and get treated and then apply. You won't have any trouble," she says.

We owe so much money we'll never dig out — we don't even have enough income to declare bankruptcy — and I'm afraid of adding on medical bills. (And this is before I heard that Advocate Health Care, the Lutheran General's parent company, was the subject of a class-action lawsuit for overcharging uninsured patients.)

Yet the pain remains devastating. I can't sleep. I can't eat. I can't think. I can't do the bits of work I've managed to line up, and I can't look for work. Between the antibiotics and staying curled around a heating pad to try for pain relief, I break out in a livid rash. On top of that, I come down with a fierce respiratory virus, likely contracted during the long bout of waiting around in the crowd at Stroger. I have a hacking cough and can scarcely breathe. I'm feeble and wretched. I know I need help, and I can't face another 11 hours in Stroger's ER purgatory. Plus it's been snowing for days and the roads are treacherous.

So we go to Lutheran General, which isn't nearby but is a lot closer than Stroger. Just getting dressed and out to the car is an ordeal. By the time we get to the ER, I can't stand up and have to be wheeled in. The waiting room is clean, comfortable and all but empty, and I'm fairly quickly taken in back to see doctors. But not, of course, before the financial interview.

When the lady from the charity office comes around, she not only wants all the grim details of our inadequate finances, she wants $500 upfront. "A deposit."

As it happens, a long-awaited check has just arrived and we have it. My spouse is prepared to turn it over. I'm in sad shape, but not so out of it that I can't remember, "If we pay that, we won't be able to pay the electric bill.

"What happens if we don't have the money?" I ask. She settles for $300.

Then she goes on to tell us about the additional proofs of our poverty they'll need, and how only postal mail and no phone calls, faxes or e-mail are permitted in communicating about these matters. The amount of charity we may or may not qualify for is unknown.

Then I get to see a doctor. I've handed over what paperwork I have from my Stroger ER visit, and recounted what they found there, but of course Lutheran General's docs do all the same costly tests over again. With the same results. This lasts about the same length of time as at Stroger, including the requisite time lying on the gurney in the hallway. Just like Stroger, they won't give me anything for pain till they're done testing.

The ER doctor tells me that she's going to admit me "for pain management." She'll send a specialist around, too.

The specialist, when she comes around the next day, tells me bluntly that although I need treatment, there's nothing she can do for me. The facilities she uses aren't owned by the hospital. They're private, and they don't take people without health insurance. Furthermore, she says, the Lutheran General doctors aren't part of the Advocate "charity" program — they're independent operators and will charge me separately.

So they send me home again, with a few nostrums and the promise of bills I can't pay.

Friday, March 20, 2009

More cheap drugs

Together Rx AccessWith the economy such that many folks are skimping on needed medicines, drugmakers Pfizer Inc., feeling the pinch, want to encourage more people to buy their meds. No doubt they're also hoping to appear less rapacious while lawmakers consider means of cost-cutting in the ongoing debate on health-care reform.

So the drug company has announced an expansion of its Together Rx Access drug discount program for people with no prescription drug coverage. The discount cards offer 25- to 40-percent off on some 300 brand-name prescription drugs at a host of pharmacies.

Among the people needing to use them may be some of Pfizer's laid-off employees. The company cut thousands of jobs early this year, with some 20,000 more layoffs slated in the wake of its merger with Wyeth. Things are so tough that poor Jeffrey B. Kindler, Pfizer CEO, went without his accustomed $3 million bonus last year, and got only a paltry $122,500 raise, bringing his total compensation to just $6.3 million in 2008, according to SEC filings.

You can sign up for Together Rx online and print out a number you can use within an hour; a card will follow by mail. I haven't tried this one yet, so I can't tell you whether the discount is any better than the one from Caremark's RxSavings Plus, which doesn't have any income limits and doesn't ask for so much personal data.

In the Together program's expansion, Pfizer increased the income eligibility from, for example, $60,000 to $90,000 for a family of four. You don't have to provide any proof of income, and I'd guess the income guidelines now encompass most people who don't have prescription coverage, anyway. Since those who have coverage get negotiated discounts, this leads me to wonder, again, why not just reduce the price of the drugs to begin with and dispense with the rigmarole?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Welcome, Health Wonks!

Health Wonk Review
Health Wonk Review is "a biweekly compendium of the best of the health policy blogs." In today's edition, compiler David Harlow at HealthBlawg focuses on health-care reform, providing links to a wide variety of thought-provoking perspectives. He also links to my very first post, "The wait for Cook County health care," and calls it "eloquent"!

Thanks, David, and welcome to any wonks who've dropped by.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Cover the Uninsured Week, March 22–28

Cover the UninsuredThis annual campaign of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spotlights the crisis of uninsured Americans and aims at its solution with consciousness-raising events around the country. The pitiful collection of Illinois activities scheduled so far highlights how far this state has to go.

One important event takes place in Springfield on March 24, Legislative Advocacy Day in support of House Bill 311, The Health Care for All Illinois Act. Go if you can. If not, contact your state representatives.

We can't wait for a federal solution — it will be too little and too late.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night...

Bill Maher provides another view on why even the most maligned of government agencies could run a better health-care system.

Via The Health Care Blog

Monday, March 16, 2009

An all-American problem

All American Uninsured
Uninsured Myths No. 1: "The uninsured are illegal 'aliens.'" FALSE.

The ranting hatemongers who were so outraged by by poor Mariana de la Torre's theft of medical treatment claim that the uninsured are mostly illegal immigrants who jam emergency rooms and jack up health-care costs for the rest of us. There's just no truth to that.

As the Kaiser Family Foundation reported last year, 79 percent of the uninsured are American citizens. Legal immigrants account for about half of the remainder. The National Institute for Health Care Management estimated the number of uninsured illegal residents at 5.6 million, which means that over 88 percent of the country's 47 million uninsured are American citizens or legal U.S. residents.

In California, home to roughly a quarter of the undocumented immigrants in the U.S, the state hospital association told the New York Times that only 10 percent of uncompensated care was for illegal immigrants. Nationally, illegals account for less than 2 percent of national medical spending, according to Rand Corp.

"A lot of people assume the emergency room overcrowding problem is due to undocumented immigrants," Jan Emerson, a California Hospital Association spokeswoman, said. "That's not what we see. They show up when they truly need emergency care."

I'm a native-born American citizen. So were my parents. I don't have health insurance. I do, however, have a voter's registration card, and I use it.

Hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness

Mariana de la TorreYesterday's Chicago Tribune ran a sad story about a cancer-stricken illegal immigrant who used a convict's stolen identity to obtain medical benefits. The Trib maybe played it bigger than it deserved, but the thing that gets me is the bitter fury of the people commenting.

Crooked CEOs and financiers have bilked the public of untold billions. Incompetent insurance companies are taking hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars and blowing them on bonuses to their overpaid, mismanaging executives, and oafs from Omaha and Phoenix are so outraged about one poor, desperate woman's abuse of the system that they're spewing enraged hopes for her pain-filled death to the Chicago Tribune? People are hateful.

Whoever they are, wherever they're from, whatever they've done ... the sick deserve care and relief from suffering. That's simple humanity.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Lessons from Massachusetts: Don't wait for feds

National Lessons from State Health Reform: The Massachusetts Case Study
Capitol Hill briefing, Feb. 25, 2009

Editorializing on what lessons Massachusetts' 2006 health-care reform has for a national plan, The Boston Globe claims that insurance now covers almost 98 percent of state residents, but notes that, "In Massachusetts, reform won such broad support in part because the bill focused solely on expanding access to the uninsured and did not attempt to control health cost inflation at the same time."

In other words, the state's reform policy, which provides insurance subsidies to the poor but fines people who don't buy in, posed no threat to insurance interests, pharmaceutical companies or other medical cash cows, so opposition was slight, unlikely with any national program. Meanwhile, as Massachusetts medical personnel, politicians and others testify in the video above, the state-mandated increases in access to health insurance don't add up to equivalent access to health care, but simply more people paying for expensive, inadequate policies.

Illinois needs to do better. The lesson this state can take from Massachusetts, however, is not to just sit back and wait for whatever the feds dream up. A national plan may take another 10 years to happen, or may never happen. As Capital Times columnist John Nichols points out, Pres. Obama seems to be deliberately leaving serious reformers such as Chicago's Dr. Quentin Young out of the health-care policy discussion.

Meanwhile, more than 1.8 million Illinoisans lack health coverage. Our affordable care options are few and overburdened. Some 40,000 Illinoisans are bankrupted by medical bills every year, and three-quarters of them had insurance when they got sick. People here need help now.

Yet the only action I see on the local horizon is House Bill 311, The Health Care for All Illinois Act, which seems to be getting little attention and will likely face stiff opposition.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Limits on leeches

Hirudo medicinalis
Starting next month, uninsured Illinoisans can expect a little alleviation, The News-Gazette reports:
"A new state law set to take effect April 1, the Hospital Patient Uninsured Discount Act, will limit the amount an Illinois hospital can charge an eligible uninsured patient to 35 percent above the cost of care.

"The new law will also limit how much money hospitals can collect from uninsured patients in a single year to 25 percent of their gross annual income...."
What a relief! A hospital can only come after a quarter of my pitiful earnings.

Of course, that's only the hospital itself. It doesn't count the individual doctors, the anesthesiologists, the independent laboratories or all the other bloodsuckers who bill you any time you wind up in the hospital. They can still dun you for all you're worth.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

15 hours at Stroger Hospital

Stroger HospitalAfter a week of toughing it out, I couldn't stand the pain. If Stroger Hospital was my only choice, I was going there.

So we set out early that December morning. It took over an hour to get there, but we pulled up at the emergency room before 8:30 a.m. The ER waiting room was already full.

I waited in line, holding on to the admissions desk for dear life — by that point I could barely stand, and there was nowhere to sit — and was ignored until my turn came around. I told the intake nurse I was in intense pain. She gave me a plastic bracelet and told where to wait. And wait. And wait.

Over 11 hours went by before I saw a doctor. Meanwhile, the room got fuller and fuller and fuller.

The pain intensified until I just sat there, weeping, curled as best I could in my hard chair. No one from the hospital ever checked on those waiting, other than occasionally calling out names from the front. After two hours, I was called to have vital signs taken and later to discuss what I could pay for treatment. (A sign in the waiting room warns that the hospital is not free.) After another five or six hours, they took my temp and blood pressure again.

After several hours, my companion went to ask if I could get something for pain. No. Told, about seven hours in, that I was near to rolling on the floor shrieking, a nurse advised that if I got escalated to the next triage level, I could expect to wait even longer.

Several other patients, seeing me suffer, asked if they could do anything to help; a young woman offered me some Tylenol. It was easy to tell the experienced hands. They'd brought their own nostrums, reading materials, games, cushions and packed lunches.

I hadn't known what to expect of the patient base — I suppose I'd pictured bag ladies and CHA residents. There were some who might have fit that description, but mostly the patients seemed much like those at other urban hospitals I have visited, diversely ethnic and largely working class. They all waited very, very patiently, no matter what was wrong with them.

In some cases, it wasn't an urgent problem. I was shocked when a pretty blonde who looked like a college student told me she'd come because she thought she had strep throat. I wondered whether she'd considered getting treatment somewhere else. "I came here because it's where I've always come," she said. "I didn't know where else to go."

Patients wait in long rows of uncomfortable chairs with arms to keep you from lying down — like an airport, but filthier. The room was the dirtiest place I've ever seen in a medical setting, chairs and tables grimed in the ground-in, stuck-on sticky grunge that denotes long periods of no serious cleaning. During that whole long day, I never saw anyone cleaning.

Once I finally got back to the medical areas, they were cleaner, but not as pristine as at other hospitals. The treatment seemed much like that at other emergency rooms, perhaps a little slower, but they did all the expected things. Once the tests came back, they gave me morphine — at last! — and things get hazy after that.

The upshot was that my problem was even worse than I'd thought. It wasn't, however, yet life threatening, so they were going to send me home to wait for an appointment with a specialist. "It takes a couple of weeks," the ER doctor said.

Then she gave me a prescription for five days' worth of painkillers.

It took two return trips to the hospital pharmacy to get them. And, more than two months later, I'm still waiting to see the specialist.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Call now!

There's still time to take part in National Call-in Day for Single-Payer Healthcare today. Just go to the link, type in your zip code and follow the directions.

I'm late posting this because I just found out about it, but please do it today before 5 p.m. Eastern Time if you can. If you can't, call tomorrow or whenever you can. Activists are also asking folks to fax your health insurance bill or letter of denial to Congress.

Washington doesn't so far seem to be seriously considering a single-payer plan, but that's what we really need.

Universal health care 'unfair to the rich'

Stephen Colbert channels FOX News:

Via Schwitzer health news blog.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Insurance doesn't mean you can stop worrying

Even Forbes, in between its stories about billionaires, is reporting on concerns over health-care costs, noting that most Americans with health insurance are anxious over what getting sick will cost them.
"MONDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- More than three-quarters of adult Americans who have health insurance say they still worry about paying more for their medical care, and nearly 50 percent say they're 'very' or 'extremely' worried about the issue, a new Harris Interactive/HealthDay poll shows.

"More than half (57 percent) of those polled said they feared losing their health insurance sometime in the future, which may explain another key finding in the poll — sizeable numbers of Americans said they're skipping doctor visits or not getting prescriptions filled to save money...."
They're right to be worried. Some 25 million Americans were underinsured in 2007, according to one study, three times as many as in 2003. "Underinsured" means your health insurance won't cover enough of the costs of a serious illness or that your deductible is so high you can't afford routine medical care.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Even George Ryan could run a better health-care plan

George RyanTPM reports on today's Republican weekly address, quoting Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) about proposals to create a government-run health care agency:
"Just imagine a health care system that looks like a government run operation most of us are all too familiar with — the local DMV. Lines, paperwork, taking a number."
I'd sure like to have access to the medical providers Blunt has. Even when I had insurance, I endured long waits at the doctor's office and all kinds of paperwork. Blunt clearly has no clue as to what most of us have to put up with. As a member of Congress, "when he gets an owie, he just trots over to Walter Reed and gets it taken care of, gratis," erichayes noted. As fpie put it:
"Just imagine a health-care system run by corporations that overcharge for insurance, refuse to pay legitimate claims, drive everybody crazy with unnecessary paperwork and wreck the economy! And by the way provide lousy health care."
I don't think that any of the plans being considered in Washington now go far enough, but even our latest crooked governor but one, George Ryan, currently behind bars for taking bribes for drivers' licenses while Illinois Secretary of State, could run a better health-care system than we've got now.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

86.7 million uninsured: 'worse than an epidemic'

CNN: With respect to health care reform, (CNN) — "One out of three Americans under 65 were without health insurance at some point during 2007 and 2008, according to a report released Wednesday.

"The study, commissioned by the consumer health advocacy group Families USA, found 86.7 million Americans were uninsured at one point during the past two years.

"Among the report's key findings:
  • Nearly three out of four uninsured Americans were without health insurance for at least six months.
  • Almost two-thirds were uninsured for nine months or more.
  • Four out of five of the uninsured were in working families.
  • People without health insurance are less likely to have a usual doctor and often go without screenings or preventative care.
'The huge number of people without health coverage is worse than an epidemic,' Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, said...."
Add to this an estimated 40 percent of Americans who have insurance that's inadequate to cover catastrophic illness, or which have deductibles so high they can't afford routine health care.

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.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Cheap drugs

Prescription discount cardsWell, not cheap, but a little cheaper.

If you don't have health insurance or your coverage doesn't include prescriptions, you can pay a whopping amount for medicines. (One of the few good things Illinois' latest crooked governor tried to do for this state was to address health care, including the cost of drugs. He made a mess of it, but at least he tried to do something.)

Cook County offers residents a free prescription discount card from Caremark that lets users save an average of 20 percent off pharmacies' regular price. How to get one? The county's Web site directs:
  • Click to go to the Caremark-NACo Website for more information visit your Cook County Board Commissioner's district office or at the lobby information desk at the Cook County Building, 118 N. Clark Street.
  • Call toll free 1-877-321-2652.
No list of offices is supplied. I clicked the Caremark link. That got me to a page that tells you to click for a list of participating counties. That link goes to a .pdf. Scroll down to Cook County, Illinois, and what do you get? A link back to the Cook County web site.

So I called the number. And the receptionist said that to get a card, I needed to go in person to a Cook County Board Commissioner's district office. Did she have a list? No. With some searching, I did find this list of commissioners with links to their district offices. But you don't have to go there.

Probing a little further, I discovered that you can get exactly the same discounts with Caremark's free RxSavingPlus card. It won't have the Cook County seal on it (which you may think of as a drawback or an added benefit), but you can sign up for the card online and print it out at home.

Walgreens, CVS, Osco, Dominick's, Target and a number of other stores participate in this discount program, which is open to everyone. I can vouch that the card works at Walgreens.

Yet I can't help wondering — if all these pharmacies are willing to give anybody 20-percent off just for printing out one of these cards, doesn't that mean regular price is at least 20 percent too high?