Hit over the head by harsh reality of health care
There isn’t much about national health care reform that hasn’t been written, debated, lauded or cursed since March. I don’t claim a unique perspective, although it’s fresh and very real to me.
For the past 14 years, I’ve been employed full-time by GSD&M in Austin. One of the benefits I enjoyed during my tenure is health insurance coverage. I didn’t realize until lately how blessed I’ve been.
I’m single with no children, paying little to no premiums for coverage. Dental, medical and even acupuncture is covered. I’ve taken health care for granted, like an inalienable right I was guaranteed to receive. So ingrained was this belief that even the slightest bit of red tape would take me from calm to incensed in nothing flat.
Coverage, company, policy changes filled me with ire. Why should I have to work hard to ensure I was taken care of ? Shouldn’t the “right to easy health care” be included along the right to bear arms? I would get livid when my out-of-pocket was $100 for an ER visit. And hell hath no fury like a woman waiting in line at a chain pharmacy.
For years, I was a loyal patron of the locally owned Lamar Plaza Drug Store — my Cheers Bar for pharmacy needs. Everyone there knew my name, and I knew theirs. When I called, I got a real, live person, someone I also got to ask important questions of face to face.
To their credit, the chain drug stores always ask if you want to talk to the pharmacist. Unfortunately, I think most people decline. I do — after waiting in line for what seems like eternity and feeling the eyes of those in limbo behind me burning into my back, the last thing I want is to stay there another nanosecond.
At Lamar Plaza, the pharmacist would actually check me out — both by taking my payment but also asking key questions about my individual health and wellness — a luxury I know isn’t afforded in the chains.
And, alas, a place like Lamar Plaza doesn’t have the luxury of being open 24 hours to suit emergency medical needs. That access became most important for me when I was constantly plagued with debilitating migraines. No, not headaches, gut-expelling, fire-blazing pain. The kind that leads one to check into an emergency room. The kind that ultimately led to a leave of absence and a weeklong hospital stay at a headache clinic in Houston. During that time, I needed consistent access to meds and therefore became a full-time patron of chain pharmacies.
I have a love/loathing relationship with that pharmacy. I love the cosmetic isles, Red Box movies, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream selection, and in all but a few cases, the staff. Lines are long and painful. The volume of customers is so high that, despite the staff’s best efforts, it’s difficult to serve all of us in the manner we need. And during this time, I started to fully comprehend the term “health care crisis.”
I stayed in the hospital for five days, for a total of $45,000 — fairly cheap by current standards. My portion? $450.
It hit me then how important health insurance was and how grateful I was to have it. Without it, treatment would have been impossible. And without treatment, the life I’m enjoying now, implausible.
The most recent census shows that 17 percent of the U.S. is uninsured, with Texas leading the nation at a whopping 26.5 percent. As I recently left full-time employment to pursue other interests, these statistics land even closer to home. Thoug I’m still doing project work for GSD&M, I am now responsible for COBRA payments — more on a monthly basis than I paid for my entire hospital stint.
Last night, I was in line at Walgreens (after a personal call from the pharmacist to help me alleviate an issue I was having — thank you, Craig) when a car pulled up next to me. It was a woman and her elderly mother picking up a prescription. The total was $101. The response was a heartbreaking “Never mind, then,” and they drove away.
No one should have to live this way — choosing food over feeling better. I no longer believe that easy health care is or even should be my right — but affordable health care should be available to us all.
And while the pharmacy line at Walgreens still might not be my all-time-favorite place to be, I’m reminded of the urban adage: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” For my part, I’m glad the game is changing.