Monday, January 24, 2011


My friend Margaret recently asked me what I thought about her dropping her medical insurance. She described it as a "catastrophic" policy, meaning low premiums and a high--$8,000--deductible. Her "low" premiums amount to $10,000 annually. Think about that: she pays the first $18,000, then, plus twenty percent of the remainder. Her notion is to drop the policy for two years, till she's eligible for Medicare.

When she characterized her policy as outright extortion, I had to agree. After all, insurance companies aren't in the business of health. They're in the business of making money, period. They employ armies of sharpies who find ways to squeeze every cent from their customers. That's the reality of it. Their only regret, when we die, is the loss of our premium.

Margaret's at an age when serious illnesses begin to kick in. Some are life-threatening and the rest are chronic, meaning incurable. If she drops her insurance, she's betting she won't contract one of these--or be in a serious accident--the next couple of years. I had to tell her I thought it was a risky bet.

A goodly chunk of home foreclosures these days is due to healthcare bills. A friend recently told me that after she brought her seven-year-old son to the emergency room for a splinter, she received a bill for over $3,000. Another friend hospitalized overnight for a broken leg was charged $10,000, essentially for the room. You've heard these stories, too. The system is scandalously, crazily unjust, and until we fix it, it's too easy to get wiped out. So when you go to pay your medical insurance premium, stop believing it's about health. Think of it as home insurance.


  1. Extortion is too kind a word. I look at what is happening in Tunisia, and Egypt, and the racket of these monopolistic health insurance companies makes me want to burn some tires in the streets with my sisters and brothers in the Mid-East.
    This feels like absolute tyranny--my 7-year-old daughter broke her leg sledding yesterday, and already, the inefficiency and expense is adding insult to injury---
    The first ER visit was actually not the worst we've ever had--they saw us mercifully quickly, and the motrin I had given her as soon as we got home was kicking in---they examined and x-rayed her and splinted her leg with a soft cast and gave her crutches--all within an hour--but they were determined to remind us to "check out"--where we learned we had a "co-pay" of $100 per ER visit, even if we have met our "annual out of pocket expenses"--which, we have, thanks to an ER visit only 6 weeks prior, where she had a lethal, flesh-eating infection in her toe--the abscess had to be lanced, and the nail pulled off, but we saved her foot and her. As anyone knows these days, one ER visit is enough to wipe you out financially if you don't have insurance, and usually enough to meet or exceed your annual out of pocket expenses if you do.

    Lo and behold, this dear child could not sleep last night for the pain. We elevated. We applied ice. We gave Motrin and Tylenol earlier than they were due. She still had not slept, she was in so much pain, so at 12:30 am we went back to the ER.

    Another $100.

    It feels like dealing with the Mob. You want protection? You think you don't need any protection? See this gun in my pocket? Yeah, now you get it, you need protection...I hear the FBI is finally really nabbing long time historical mob families in NY in the latest round of sweeping arrests...but no one, it seems, has the political leverage to reign in these insurance companies, who just keep piling on fees no matter how much "extra business" they get from "high-risk pools" that they've been shunning for decades to begin with.

    We can't get any leverage by threatening to stop business with this insurance company because my employer doesn't offer any other companies. And no one in this recession DARE quit, or God forbid, lose your job, if the next job even offers insurance.

    I wish I could devote every ounce of my strength only to hoping for my daugther's healing, and not inadvertently having almost unavoidable fantasies of major revolt and revolution in the streets, in getting these Mob insurance companies off our backs, literally holding us up at gun point between us and our doctors and nurses.

    Go Tunisia, Go Egypt--but just be careful once you get your brutal dictators off your shoulder, you don't invite "free market" gurus in--once their profiteering motives take over, it is almost impossible to wrest the solely human common good back from them.

  2. Ah, DreamsAmelia,

    Another passionate and eloquent comment from you. I couldn't agree with you more. Do you have any ideas about what we simple citizens can do to humanize our scandalous system?