Over the past several months I’ve continued to document my problems with our broken health care system, particularly focusing on the options provided by those who are either unemployed, disabled, or who work low-wage jobs in which their employer does not provide the option of coverage. My hope upon doing so is that more people will recognize the depths of the problem beyond just the soundbytes, the smears, and the distortions. I aim to record the truth, not the fear-based rhetoric that many accept as God’s honest truth. What I have discovered is that the problem goes much deeper than a position statement and only modestly resembles the demonizing propaganda disseminated by those who would kill reform altogether. The real issues are just as troublesome, though they are far more ordinary and less inclined to high drama.
Today’s latest hassle involves a matter of incorrect bill coding. An insurance claim for lab work was not processed properly, so I opened the mailbox Saturday to find an eye-opening bill for a mere $1,323. To say that I couldn’t exactly pay it in full would be an understatement. Along with the bill was an itemized statement listing the cost of the twelve separate tests that were run. Those who have a chronic illness of their own recognize that upon seeing a new specialist or doctor, he or she will often order several lab profiles at first as a means of eliminating other extenuating circumstances that might complicate the treatment of a primary diagnosis. Sensible enough, except that many these tests are very expensive. A test for Hepatitis, for example, cost $366, and a full drug screen cost $217. Those with excellent insurance never blink an eye about the prohibitive cost, of course, because for them it is almost always covered in full.
For those with sub-standard or nonexistent coverage, however, the situation is quite different. As I have mentioned before, I have bipolar disorder, and as such take Lithium to stabilize my moods. Lithium is a notoriously difficult drug to regulate because the most minor changes in environment or other seemingly innocuous changes will cause the levels in the bloodstream to vary considerably over time. There is no other way to accurately measure its concentration in the bloodstream except through drawing blood and over the years I have gotten used to it, as best as one can under the circumstances. Still, I report with much frustration that even a simple Lithium serum level costs $64 without insurance. Someone who also has bipolar and is living in poverty could not easily afford to spend this kind of money and would likely choose to either go off his/her medication altogether, or stay on the meds and go months without having a lab profile, both of which are extremely dangerous options.