Use It Or Lose It

I’m at San Diego Comic-con RIGHT NOW at the Cyanide & Happiness booth (#1234)! Come say hi, buy and a print and get a sketch from me and the Explosm boys.

The rollover medics! That’s how they get ya! This is basically me trying to understand every communication I have with my insurance company. About a month ago I almost cut my thumb off with an exacto knife, and rather than just go to the hospital, I held a towel over the gushing wound while my wife tried to figure out how much it might cost to get my hand sewn back together by a professional flesh seamstress. I’m grateful for the Affordable Care Act, in so much as I am self employed (or professionally unemployed) and for the first time in 9 years I do HAVE health insurance. But nothing about the ACA requires insurance companies to be clear with their language or comprehensible by a thinking human in any way. Eventually we decided that it would either cost $250 or one hundred million dollars. We chose to glue my hand back into it’s original configuration and go on with out lives. Many weeks later and I have a small scar and ALMOST full feeling in my thumb.

Sharksploders: Have you ever had an “I SHOULD GO TO THE EMERGENCY ROOM… or maybe I can fix this at home!” moment? No? Just me? I might have decision making problems.

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  1. I walked around with bronchitis for 4 weeks before going to the doctor, where I was nearly hospitalized due to low blood oxygen. They gave me antibiotics and steroids and codiene laced cough syrup and a new inhaler (I have asthma). I should have gone in to the doctor during the first few days I was ill, when I was running a 106* fever. I might have been able to avoid the bronchial infection if I had, or at least curtailed it a bit. I grew up mostly uninsured, though, so I’m all too used to doing the “can we afford this” dance.

    The worst part is that I find myself doing the “can we afford this” dance with my kid. And we CAN afford it. We have insurance, so we just need to cough up the $25 co-pay. And if we don’t have that, for some reason, my in-laws can scrape it together for us. I should have taken my kid in to the doctor this winter weeks before I finally did, because I kept thinking he’d get better any day now. I’m STILL kicking myself over that delayed decision.

  2. Living without universal healthcare just sounds nuts. If something happens, I don’t even have to think about how much it may or may not cost. It’s really just down to “Do I want to bother going to urgent care/the hospital?”

    • This. This, absolutely. I honestly don’t understand why the US doesn’t have riots over it; the entire rest of the Western world has had universal health care for over half a century. I just don’t get it.

      Look, to illustrate: When my daughter was a baby she had an unrelated health issue I was concerned about and ended up taking her to an emergency department while we were visiting a friend, where they ended up assuring me that issue was nothing to be concerned about but that there was something funny with the shape of her skull. An X-ray later, the pediatrician who checked her out confirmed that one of the joins in her skull was prematurely fused.

      I went to his office the next day to discuss it in further detail. Ends up she would need surgery to reshape her skull. There was an option to take her to the States for a new, less-intrusive procedure (followed by two years of custom-fitted helmets to shape her skull growth), which, of course, wouldn’t be covered by our Canadian insurance, or we could get the usual procedure done (which was first performed over a hundred years previously, so a well-understood thing). We met with the neurosurgeon at the Children’s Hospital, who advised the better-known procedure; we discussed it in detail and were convinced of his familiarity with the procedure, the main difference with the new one being a smaller incision (which is under her hair anyways) and also then just follow-up monitoring with the usual one, rather than her having to wear helmets for the next two years. He didn’t like the idea of doing it with scopes, where bleeding might develop somewhere in there that he couldn’t see.

      We did look at the cost for doing it in the States (the people doing it out of Dallas were very nice): $70,000 for the initial procedure, plus several thousand for the follow-ups and the helmets, plus flights and hotels, so that puts it in some perspective, cost-wise.

      A few months later I drove back down to Vancouver with my daughter for the two-hour surgery. We then stayed in the hospital for three or four more days over the weekend while she recovered, and had annual follow-ups with the surgeon for the next four years, until we moved out of the province; since then we’ve been following up with local pediatricians.

      Total cost for the emergency room visit, the x-ray, the consultation with the pediatrician and the neurosurgeon, the surgery, the hospital stay, and the follow-ups: $0. Big, fat nothing.


      The only costs to us was the gas to drive down and home again, and food for me in the hospital (which was I think around $20 each day), which I could then write off on my taxes as a medical expense. Immediately after surgery she was on a mix of codeine and Tylenol. When we left, they gave me the rest of her codeine doses for the next few days (pre-measured, in individual oral syringes) free, and baby Tylenol is like $7 a bottle.

      I cannot imagine how awful it would have been to not have had the option of just having it done here. Can you imagine having your poor kid breaking an arm or something and having to stop and consider the cost of getting it treated instead of just going straight to the emergency department and that’s it? –Well, yeah, I can *imagine* it but you poor bastards actually have to deal with that. Holy sh*t. I really, truly, honestly don’t know why there aren’t riots over it. Nor why there was so much resistance to Obamacare. I assure you, universal health care doesn’t refuse to treat you because you’re too old or too sick. That’s just something that the American system does. D: Holy cow.

  3. Not at home. I was a dishwasher at a restaurant several years back and a glass just broke and cut me. I thought I was going to be okay but told I needed to get stitches for it.

    • I had a similar thing happen to me working in a buffet. I was sharpening my knife to carve the prime rib, and it slipped and hit my knuckle. Of course there was a giant line, so I didn’t have time to even look at it — I ducked down behind my station, wrapped the finger in paper towels and pulled on a clean glove, sanitized the knife, and got to carving. When the line finally died, I asked someone to cover me while I got a bandaid. But when I asked the boss for one, he took one look and drove me to urgent care, where the LPN on duty opened the cut and was all, “Hey, look! Tendons!” Six stitches.

  4. Man, the USA really needs to get universal healthcare. The NHS might just be the best thing about living in the UK, never having to worry about whether or not an accident would end up bankrupting me.

    • so thankful for the nhs here in the uk when i read these kind of stories, it’s not in great shape right now but they patch you up and don’t charge you for the privilege of doing it, and that’s never to be underestimated, there’s no way i could ever afford some kind of health care insurance in this current day and age

  5. I once spent weeks living with a cough so bad I couldn’t sleep at night because (despite enjoying free Canadian health care) it felt awkward to go to urgent care about a cough. Turns out I had bronchitis that grew into pneumonia while I was trying to tough it out.

    Also I was directing a play at the time and gave the bronchitis to half the cast. Not my finest hour overall.

  6. Medicare in the US works (except for dental). If insurance companies didn’t OWN the government, we could just call it

    [Medicare for All]!

  7. Did almost this same thing recently, but with a a box cutter. I couldn’t find my super glue, so I just kept pressure on it ’til it more or less stopped bleeding. The best part was trying to figure out how to unlock my phone to call my wife, since the thumb print that normally unlocks it was busy gushing blood…

  8. Universal Health Care is great in theory, but implementing it is a huge uphill battle–you’d have to get Americans to agree on HUGE tax increases to fund real healthcare for all, and that seems unlikely to happen in this generation….

    Plus it’s not the end all and be all. Lowest common denominator HealthCare isn’t perfect either, check with Canadians….

    • You wouldn’t need HUGE tax increases if we dismantled our bloated, unnecessarily complicated existing healthcare system. Try getting a procedure approved through BlueCross and tell me there isn’t 100 layers of waste and over spending. The 19 pieces of mail and 12 phone calls with contradictory information, and the 3 fake “bills” Im supposed to ignore, then the 1 real “bill” that I also not supposed to pay before I get the actual statement? There are millions and millions being spent on “that’s just how we do it” pointless redundancy and bureaucracy. Of course that isn’t a quick fix, either. Nothing will ever be. The entire industry has to be burnt to the ground before it can be rebuilt.

  9. Ugh. In 2011, I broke my foot (first time I broke a bone and it was STUPID easy to do – turned my ankle while crossing the street and fell on it wrong). Obviously broken: blew up like a balloon, horrible pain, I could feel the bones grinding together in a weird (unpleasant) way. My then-husband reallllly didn’t want to spend the money on an ER visit. (To be fair, I did call my dad – an x-ray tech – who was like, “well, if you go to the ER, they’ll probably just give you a walking cast…”) So we got a walking cast off Craigslist and I was in excruciating pain for eight weeks or so. ‘MURICA.

    More recently, I signed up for insurance via a BCBS rep on the phone. Was SUPER clear about my needs (wanted something that would cover regular therapy along with normal doc visits, etc.). I reviewed the application when they sent it over and the copays and everything looked like it’d be a good fit. Come to find out that buried somewhere in the fine print was the info that my insurance only covers THREE normal office visits a year – including therapist visits! – and everything after that comes out of a FIVE THOUSAND DOLLAR deductible. So I’m paying $235/mo for shitty benefits, BCBS won’t (/can’t, but let’s be real, won’t) do anything about it even though it was wildly misrepresented to me by the rep, and of course, I’m having some super awful dragged out Mystery Illness (TM) right now, so I can’t cancel my insurance and save the money, because I need it to make specialist visits & medication more affordable. Andddd I can’t change my plan until October or November or whenever the hell open enrollment is. I hate insurance companies so, so much.

  10. It’s about time this comic actually featured sharks. Even if they were off-screen and weren’t the exploding kind.

  11. Because I opted not to go to college immediately after graduating from high school, I was dropped from my mother’s insurance the minute I turned 18. That was in October 1981. I didn’t have insurance until early 1988, when I was 24 and the benefits kicked in on my job (three months after I converted from temp to permanent). There were a couple of times in that six-and-a-half year period where I had injuries or mysterious pains and I just walked ’em off or hoped they’d go away (“Ow, my chest hurts. Jesus, I hope I’m not having a heart attack. Okay, it responds to movement, it must just be muscular.” “Ow, I have a pain in my side. I wonder what I bumped into? (Nothing, idiot, it’s kidney stones, which you’ll find out in the ER ten years from now.)” “I just came down hard on both my ankles playing softball. Well, I can walk without screaming, I guess they’re not broken.”

    I think the second-best thing about the ACA (after, y’know, self-employed people being able to get insurance) is the part where you can stay on your parents’ insurance until you’re 26. Some of those injuries and pains really would have benefited from a doctor visit.

    • My problem with the “26” thing is;

      I know a guy who is 26. He served a full tour in the Marines. Is married, bought a house and has two kids of his own, but the government still refers to him as a “child”.

      Is there a different term we could use?

    • The two biggest factors in healthcare reform to me are the pre-existing conditions clause and the inability to deny children. Can you imagine being the guy on the other end of the phone whose job ALL DAY is to tell people, “Sorry, your baby was born a little off, so you’re gonna owe $60,000 out of pocket. Cheers!”

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