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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Holding Our Health Hostage

A friend of mine is paying $1,600 for a yeast infection.

I'm not exaggerating. She is paying $1,100 for the ER and $500 for a doctor.

What's sad is that she didn't get the prescription or treatment she needed. What's really sad is that she ended up getting what she needed for only $80 at Planning Parenthood. What's extremely sad is that now she now can't qualify for financial aid from the hospital.

But what's confusing is that she doesn't qualify because she doesn't have health insurance. She was told by the financial aid office that it was now "against the law" for the hospitals to consider giving aid to those without insurance.

I found out about my friend Sarah's issue on Twitter. I think it was a desperate plea for help and an angry cry of foul play all wrapped into one.

And I tend to agree with her. How does it make sense that financial aid is no longer available for people who do not have health insurance? I mean, if they had health insurance they likely would not need the financial aid.

I won't go too in depth about my friend's situation, HIPAA and all that, but I will say that she thought she had a UTI and dealt with that pain for a little over a week. Her health insurance coverage, ironically, had just lapsed a few weeks earlier.

Using WebMD - the modern day, millennial, digital doctor - she read that, if it was a UTI, she needed to get a prescription for an antibiotic which required seeing a doctor. Her husband, who is going to school to be a nurse, agreed.

Not immediately thinking about Planned Parenthood, she checked the internet to see if there were any free or reduced cost general health clinics in the area. She found three, called them all, and none were accepting new or walk-in patients.

She knew she needed to go to either the local ER or OnCall site. In her prior experience, since she's been to both, she had found it easier to deal with the financial aid process through the ER since her last three applications for OnCall somehow slipped through the cracks.

This is probably the point where you'll say: "Why doesn't she just get health insurance?" She obviously goes to the doctor enough. And that's what I thought, too.

But, talking with Sarah, she said in the past eight years she had only been to the doctor on average about once per year. She's lucky and she did not understand the point of paying nearly $2,000 for health insurance annually when she only needed about $300 worth of care.

I could understand that. I could relate with that.

So, Sarah went to the local ER where she was told (after about two hours - a speedy ER visit, actually) that she did not have a UTI and that the doctor thought it was a yeast infection. He prescribed a couple pills that were taken in the hospital and a topical lotion.

Sarah still felt the infection the next day, and a few days later realized she could still go to the Planned Parenthood. She kicked herself for not thinking of it earlier. The next week the local Planned Parenthood had their walk-in clinic. She got there 45 minutes before they opened and still was the sixth in line.

After about three hours, she was told once again that it was not a UTI and they prescribed Diflucan for the yeast infection. The clinician said it was free at the local grocery store pharmacy.

She went that night, took the medicine and felt much better.

This is a happy ending in the sense that Sarah is a healthy 30-something again. She goes to the gym. She eats well. She's happy and, most importantly, healthy.

But I can't help but think that the current health care system now in place across the country does not work and most assuredly does not make sense. It's like the government, hospitals, doctors, and health insurance providers are holding our health hostage.

Clinics are overrun, emergency rooms are crowded and not always helpful, and places like Planned Parenthood have a societal stigma.

Now, in order for Sarah to have a chance to reduce her $1,600 hospital fee, she has to pay $2,500 annually (her insurance would have went up going into 2014) for something she probably won't use until she's pregnant in a few years.

She has an upcoming appointment with a government rep to look over the Obamacare choices that are now available but they look about the same as her work-provided insurance.

Maybe the majority of the population doesn't mind paying 10 percent of their annual income for something they likely won't use.

As for Sarah, she doesn't get it. And, I have to admit, I don't either.


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