When people find out I used to work for an insurance company, many of them ask if I can help find them a decent policy that won’t bust their family budgets. Many others ask if I would consider going to bat for them after their insurer has denied coverage for a potentially life-saving treatment. And a lot of folks have reached out just to tell me their stories, just to get someone to listen.
That was the case following my column last week about Mitt Romney’s contention that uninsured people don’t have a problem getting the care they need — that the care is readily available in hospital emergency rooms. The commentary provoked an outpouring of emotion illustrating just out tragically out of touch many of our political leaders are.
Readers have left more than 600 comments since my column was published last Monday here and by the Huffington Post. Many were written by folks who just wanted to express an opinion about Mr. Romney’s comment or about Obamacare. But many others were from people who wanted to talk about losing a loved one or not being able to pay for care because of a system that has come to be controlled by powerful insurance companies. Here, in their own words, are a small number of them. They should provide all the evidence any politician needs to understand that the ER is not the magic cure some of them apparently think it is.
- “My son couldn't get insurance at any price because a birth defect is a pre-existing condition. So, when he got colon cancer, he was denied the care he needed until it was too late to save his life. Emergency rooms only have to stabilize you — address the symptoms, not the cause. Mike was given pain meds and sent home — and billed — four times.”
- “Haven't been to a doctor in five years…Have no health insurance. I don't care about me. It's my 10- and 13-year-old children who have no health insurance. My wife's part-time job and the little money I make disqualify my kids for Medicaid … Do I want people to feel sorry for me? No. I want things improved so no one has to live like this. I've got a beautiful family, they don't deserve to have to live under these stressful conditions.”
- “We pay 25 percent of our income just for my health insurance. It's a good thing we have it, because I have had two heart attacks and other major illnesses. But even with a low co-pay for visits and prescriptions, we often cannot afford enough food or gas once the medical bills have been paid. Luxuries like new clothes … are out of the question.”
- “Haven't been to a dentist in 25 years, in pain all the time … I have no health insurance, can't afford it. I'm 53, female, and considered high risk because my mother died from breast cancer. I work fulltime and do my best to exercise and eat healthy. If I had the chance to go to a doctor for a wellness check up, and receive routine dental care, I'd jump at the chance.”
- “When I first opened my business, I had two employees. Trying to find an insurance company to cover the 3 of us was difficult and rates were very high. Since 2005, medical premiums have increased by 15-20 percent every year, dental premiums increased at a faster rate, co-pays went from $0 to $25 per visit, annual out of pocket maximums jumped significantly, and what was covered was reduced...It’s an overhead cost that can really make a dent (gash may be a better term) in the profits. I chose to carry coverage as an employer but many in my size business don't resulting in many uninsured fulltime working, responsible, adults.”
- “ … [M]y daughter ended up in medical bankruptcy after the hospital wouldn't accept the amount she could afford to pay, turned her down when it came to setting up a payment plan, and immediately began garnishing her wages. They took 65 percent of her pay until the bill was paid off ... She had to borrow money from us to survive on until the bill was paid.”
- “We pay $17,000 dollars a year in premiums for our family of three. We have a high deductible or our premiums would be $7,000 more...I have had a serious illness this year ... seven weeks in the hospital, part in the ICU, two months at home with a visiting nurse, and all of the accompanying follow up visits, scans and meds. Our out of pocket is probably in the $40 to $50,000 range. A big hit on our savings, to say the least.”
- “ … [H]ave high blood pressure and EVERY insurance co. I called just laughed and told me not to bother applying. In 2010 I slipped and fell and spent a couple days in the hospital. I wound up paying $79,000 out of my own pocket for those days. I'm lucky. I could afford to pay it. Most folks just can't afford it.”
Does Mitt Romney know any of these people? I doubt it. Does he even know anyone like this? I doubt that too. If he did, it’s unlikely, I think, that he’d be touting the wonders of the emergency room as the route to quality health care.