Friday, September 18, 2009

Pretty Damn Important

I have no health insurance. Dawn Smith might as well not have any health insurance.

Dawn Smith lives in Atlanta. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with a rare, but treatable brain tumor. Her doctors are ready to remove it, but they can't because CIGNA refuses to pay for the surgery.

Dawn has been fighting CIGNA on her own, but now she's asking for help. CIGNA may be able to ignore her, but they won't be able to ignore millions of us standing together.

I just added my name to the group of people standing with Dawn. Will you join me so we can shine a light on Big Insurance's abusive tactics, get Dawn the care she needs and make sure they don't do this to anyone again? You can sign at the link below

I had health insurance.

When I was a minor, I was a dependent on my father's plan. I got to keep that health insurance when I went to college because I was a full-time student. Then I got a job teaching English in Japan (JET program) and was automatically enrolled into the Japanese National Health Coverage program, 国民健康保険 kokumin-kenkou-houken, when I applied for a work visa.

It was actually pretty cool. As a function of paying my local taxes, I could go to any clinic or hospital in any city in the prefecture, for any type of sickness or discomfort. I caught a bad flu over the winter (aching all over, barfing, fever, delusions, the whole nine yards) and went, without an appointment, to the nearest clinic, on a weekend. I showed them my little orange and white Kokumin card, waited 20 minutes in a quiet waiting room with some tea, then was seen directly by a doctor. He checked me out, asked me about my symptoms (in English, even), and asked a few questions: we mutually decided it sounded like I had the coastal flu, and he went over the symptoms and usual progress of the virus to be sure it matched with the symptoms I'd experienced. Then he wrote down a combination of two medicines on my chart, and we went up front to the nurse's desk. I bowed goodbye and thanks to the doctor, the nurse read my chart, and brought me my proscriptions from the medicine room, along with dosing instructions in English. My copay was exactly 1,000 yen. About $10 USD.

Then I came back to the US.

The health care industry in the States does not consider Japan's Kokumin health care to be a legitimate form of "continuing coverage," so I could not re-apply for any plan I had been covered by in the past, even at a higher rate. In addition, treatment for any condition I had developed before, even while covered by US health insurance companies, would no-longer be covered by any plan on the market.

I applied as an individual, age 24, non-smoker, non-drinker, and was subsequently denied coverage by Cigna, Humana, Blue Cross Blue Shield, United Health, and Assurant to any plan at any cost. The reason given for the denials was always that I have PCOS and hypothyroidism.

Neither of these conditions are terminal. Neither are even considered serious by the doctors who diagnosed me. Both are well-controlled by medication.

I am currently paying for those medications out-of-pocket at about $300 a month because I have no health insurance, no prescription coverage. There are no generics available for one of the medications I must take daily, and the manufacturer offers no discount programs or assistance.

I need to find a job that offers health care. I cannot be a freelancer anymore -- I must be corporately employed. Most employers in my field, however, do not offer major medical insurance. I'm still looking for even one that does.

Until then, I am nervous, insecure, and one of America's 40 million or more uninsured.


Sarah said...

You could move to Australia...our health system is quite similar to Japan's... other than that I don't really have any suggestions...

But I really hope you find a solution, Ku.

Heather said...

I usually lurk on blogs. But your post prompted me to pipe up. I definitely understand your frustration (I'm diabetic). I'm not a violent person but if I hear one more "health care is a privilege not a right" comment I'm going to slap someone silly. On your meds problem have you tried your local non profit health care clinic? Often if you qualify for their sliding scale it also applies to their pharmacy.

Ku said...

That's a fantastic idea, Heather. I did in fact look into it when we lived in Missouri, but two of the medications I'm on aren't offered there because of the high cost of keeping them in stock. The other two were offered at about 75% discount, but those are only $12~14 and $30~35, respectively, at the cheapest "regular" US pharmacy in the area... so I'm saving maybe 10 or 12 dollars if I take advantage of the non-profit clinics.

I didn't want to say it in the post, but honestly, Canada has become my temporary solution to this problem... except technically, having meds sent from Canada to the US is illegal. I've been reprimanded once already by the FDA officers at the border where my first shipment came through, and the package was confiscated. :/

Sarah, I would LOVE to move to Australia. Koalas and ocean and Vegemite and inverted seasons and health care. ;_; Also, short flights to Japan. You guys have it awesome.