Me & My Health Care

imagesSit down Freesia Laners. This one may take a while.

I moved to Cape Cod a few years ago from Los Angeles, where I had health care through an employer. Getting a primary care physician on Cape Cod isn’t easy; they just don’t seem to want to live here. So when my mom died I called her primary care physician, who said she wasn’t taking new patients. I pointed out that my mom’s passing had left an empty spot for me, and we shared similar DNA, so maybe she could take me in place of my mother without much bother (sorry Mom, but desperate times call for desperate measures). The doctor took pity on me.

I decided to stay on the Cape, and I had to move my health care to my marketing company, Blue Shoe Strategy. Alas, the new health care — for which I pay upwards of $850 a month, by the way — wasn’t accepted by my mother’s hand-me-down doctor, so I went back on the prowl for a new primary care physician.

Not much luck. I made call after call to all the doctors on my list who take my Neighborhood insurance, and one after another said they were sorry but they weren’t taking new patients. I suggested that they might want to update their status on the insurance company’s web site if weren’t taking new patients, and they thanked me for such amazing insight and hung up.

I finally found a doctor who was taking patients and who looked like a decent person when I Googled him (no recent felonies), and I called to make an appointment.

“I have a few things that need attention, so I would love to get in to see the doctor quickly. I can’t walk. My hip is not okay.” After riding horses and playing a lot of tennis and putting my left leg on the dashboard when I drive (don’t ask), my hip is bone on bone.

“Oh, well before you can get in for things like that you need to have your first appointment, which takes a while. The earliest first appointment I have is in June.”

It was January.

“Oh,” I said. “Well, if she is my primary physician, and I have to have a referral for my hip, and it’s January now, what do I do about the hip?”

“You can go to the walk-in clinic in Centerville.”

“Really? That doesn’t sound great to discuss something as important as my hip.”

I made the appointment for June and decided I could wait on the hip thing.

June came, and I headed to the office of said doctor. I went in and it was filthy. Filthy, I tell you. The bathroom looked as though it had never had toilet paper—ever—and from the waiting room I saw several doctors working without scrubs. I was called into a cubicle to go over paperwork.

“I just wanted to let you know there is no toilet paper in the bathroom, and it’s actually kind of a mess.”

“We are really busy here.” Curt would be a good word to describe her tone.

I knew I couldn’t stay. Her half-eaten lunch was on the desk, and she wouldn’t look at me. I was out of there. I told her I didn’t think it was a fit and left. It had now been eight months since the start of my new insurance.

Four months later, and intermittent calling I found someone. She looked fabulous. It would take another six months to get my first appointment, but I felt like I had it nailed.

Two months later, her office called.

“I’m sorry, Dr. So and So has stopped taking new patients. We have to cancel your upcoming appointment.” That sounded like a new meaning for the word upcoming. Four months in the future is now upcoming.

“Oh, I’m sure this is a mistake. She already accepted me. I changed the information in my insurance. I have an appointment just four short months from now. I am not a new patient; I’m an as yet unseen patient.”

Nope. Nada. She was done. I started to cry and asked the woman just what I should do now?

“Well, you could see her brother. He’s taking new patients.” Done. And guess what? He had an opening a month away. Off I was sent after my first appointment with him for blood work. (I am not going to say anything more about him other than that I have seen him twice, including once for my “complete” physical, and he has yet to actually examine me. But hey, hope springs eternal.) He did send me for a complete blood work up.

The blood work place opens at 6:30 a.m. Being the early-to-bed, early-to-rise person that I am, I went at 6:15 in order to be first in line. I was seventh. When we filed in, I sat in the lone chair near the desk in order to keep away from any germs that might be festering in the people on the other side of the room. This gave me a vantage point that allowed me to see and hear them checking in as they were called up.

One after another they checked in, and when asked about insurance, every single one of them—all six of them, I swear—said they didn’t have it. Each and every one. I was shocked. They were all on their smart phones and all well dressed; one woman was wearing leather boots and a fabulous jacket. None of them had insurance. Not one. And each time the woman behind the counter said, “That’s okay, we will do it.”

My turn. I got up and proudly handed over my insurance card. The one that says I’m an upstanding American citizen. The one that costs me $800 and change every month, which comes to $10,200 per year. The one that has not helped me to get a primary care physician in over a year. That one.

“Great. That will be a $20 copay today.”

I stopped cold in my tracks. I snapped, I tell you.

“I don’t have $20,” I said. I was sure she would say the same thing to me that she said to my fellow Americans in the room.

“Oh.” She looked at me strangely. “Then we can’t do the tests.”

“Oh, I’m sure you can. Those that went before me this morning didn’t have any insurance, and they didn’t have to pay.”

“Yes, but you have insurance so you have to do a copay.”

“Ok, well, let’s start again. Pretend that I didn’t give you my insurance card, and I’m now saying I don’t have insurance. So I assume I don’t have to pay.”

“But I know you do have insurance.”

“Well, I’m telling you I’m canceling it when I leave here.”

And so it went. I finally paid the co-pay, and with my inner rage I woke up any cancer cells that might have been sleeping in my body as I sat there waiting to be called. I started thinking about a relative, with whom I am very close, who pays nothing for his insurance – he does work – and he gets in right away and seems to have better care than I get. I tried to channel my inner Oprah about remembering that anger is only affecting you. The person to whom your anger is directed doesn’t even know you are angry. I looked around the room. Not one of them seemed to notice me, let alone recognize that I was furious with each and every one of them. Namaste.

I’m a liberal when it comes to human things. I am a conservative when it comes to financial things. So, I’m neither a Democrat nor a Republican. I have voted for both sides of the aisle, and I’m proud of it. I’m not sitting on the right and bashing the left. I don’t think people never need help. I truly believe in helping my American neighbors rise up from the ashes when they need my help because of events beyond their control. I even believe in helping when their misfortunes happen because they did something wrong. I’m a giving girl. I am. But now I realize that there is something very, very wrong with the whole system. What to do? Who the hell knows? Compassion with accountability. How does one do this?

I’m considering my options. I’m not sure of my next step yet, but I can assure you there will be one. You haven’t heard the last from me about this. Feel free to go back to whatever you were doing before starting to read this long message.

1 comment to Me & My Health Care

  • Paula

    This whole thing is awful. No doubt the stress of all of this is indeed bad for your health, on top of the other issues. And with fewer and fewer medical students opting to go into primary care, the situation will only get worse. The only way we could find a new doctor after we moved was to sign up with a “concierge” practice, where you are basically paying up-front to have access to the physician. This lets her accept fewer patients and still make a decent living, while ensuring that her patients can see her pretty much at will. No waiting. We’ll see how this all works if we were to have a serious medical issue. Then we’d still have to find specialists, and no telling how THAT would go.

    I’m not sure things are any better in countries with long-established socialized medicine. Friends in Sweden are disillusioned with health-care there, now that they are in their sixties and starting to need more care. Long waits for appointments, huge delays if surgery is needed. What’s the solution? I sure don’t know.

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