Monday, August 24, 2009

Health Care Stories: Los Angeles, CA

Anika lost her job and health care coverage while pregnant. It has been a harrowing journey ever since.

In 2002, I found out I was pregnant the week I returned to work from disability leave. I was let go the next Monday. Throughout my pregnancy, we paid $640 per month towards COBRA. I received unemployment. My self-employed husband was covered under my plan. On April 29th, I was discharged from the hospital. Within the week, I received bills and then a shock from CIGNA: my health insurance was cancelled. My payment in April was a day late. CIGNA chose to send me back my check and cancel my coverage. The cancellation took effect retroactively to April 30th. That meant my follow-up visits to my OB/GYN and to the new pediatrician all had to come out of pocket.

There’s a lot of noise out there about the proposed healthcare bill going through Congress at the moment. There are a lot of lies being told by right-wing propagandists. A lot of astroturfing being done by the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies. I do not know if the proposed bill is going to help. What I do know is that for over 60 years this issue has arisen and the GOP tells us that we have to wait and see. If they haven’t been able to come up with a reasonable response or alternative solution in this time, why does anyone listen to these people?

I find it frustrating that people who receive taxpayer-funded healthcare (I’m talking your elected representatives here) have the audacity to go out and tell you that taxpayer-funded healthcare is “socialism”. It’s just mind-blowing when people I know who receive some kind of government assistance parrot that line with no sense of irony. When you tell them that, just like with gay marriage or abortion, if they don’t like it, don’t participate, they have no response but to sputter. No one is forcing them or their doctors to join in the proposed bill. They do not have to use the service. That is no reason to deny it from others who want it and need it.

Thankfully, the doctors were willing to make arrangements with me and gave me discounts for cash payments. Unfortunately, the labs that they used were not so flexible. To make matters worse, CIGNA then chased after me for payments that they had covered previously during my pregnancy. They even double-, triple- and quadruple-billed me for the same doctor visit or for lab costs that were paid separately. In order to prove that I did not owe money on these, I had to jump through a lot of hoops. In the end, CIGNA wound up reimbursing me over $5000. We still had no healthcare.

Financially speaking, things only got worse. Our baby girl needed her shots, and the only solution was to go to a clinic for low-income people. When I hear some senator or entertainment figure say that, if this plan goes through, then your wait times will increase. It’s clear they are out of touch with what most of us deal with on a regular basis. Even when I had insurance, I was still guaranteed to wait 20 minutes to an hour beyond my appointment time.

Even if we had the money, we still couldn’t get covered. My daughter was born with a herniated belly button. This is not a rare situation for a newborn, yet every single health insurance company turned her down for coverage. Even when the delivering doctor and pediatrician wrote letters stating that her belly button is fine and her health is 100 percent, they called it a “pre-existing condition” and would not consider her for health insurance.

I am also unable to get health coverage because of BMI numbers. I remember the first time I had been turned down. I was on the phone with a lady from Blue Cross. She told me why only my husband would be covered. She said, “We will not cover you because you’re morbidly obese.”

I was stunned. I was 5′7″ and 205lbs. Considering my family history, I know what "morbidly obese" looks like, and I know that I was not. I have been rejected for health insurance because both of my parents had strokes. I have been rejected for health insurance because of my carpal tunnel, sports injuries I received as a child, and my bad back.

When I found out in 2005 that I was pregnant again, my first thought went to how I could afford the costs associated with just carrying a baby. At the time, we were on the verge of eviction, of losing our car, of having our utilities turned off … it was a very bad time. I found out that I qualified for Medi-Cal. That relieved a lot of stress, but it wasn’t completely stress-free.

In the past few years, I’ve dealt with our healthcare issues as well as I could. I take my children to clinics for their shots. My husband and I do not get physicals. We do not go to the hospital or doctor unless it’s a true emergency. I have a latex allergy that causes severe discomfort. At the moment, I am having a very bad reaction. I cannot afford to get medication, so I try to do whatever I can to ease the discomfort because my only other options are to cry or lash out.

I know that my situation is pretty tame compared to what some people deal with, but, if we can relieve just a little pressure in the system, what’s the problem? So many companies lose so much money in productivity because of the lack of healthcare. If employees had true healthcare, then they’d go to the doctor when they think something is wrong instead of waiting too see. If people were given the option of preventive care vs. last-minute drastic measures, I think our nation would be a lot healthier.

This story originally appeared on Anika's blog, Faboo Mama. Check it out.

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