This is part of an ongoing series for our writers to share their personal stories on the state of healthcare in America.
by Lauren Grace
“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhuman because it often results in physical death.”–Martin Luther King
For 15 months, healthcare has been among America’s most urgent issues, along with worries about terrorism, taxes, and guns. Many of our readers — with for-profit, public, or no insurance — struggle with the double indemnity of health crises and financial troubles. These writers believe that pending NY legislation could, by upsetting this too-common pairing, upend the national debate.
At age 29, with a blood clot at the base of my brain, I was hospitalized for three days in 2015. I had to be constantly monitored for strokes or seizures so, do to a lack of available hospital beds, this meant I was in the ICU for three straight days.
I initially went to the ER with what I thought was an exceptionally awful, multi-day migraine. When the ER doctor ran into my curtained off area to ask if I had hit my head (I hadn’t) because the CT Scan demonstrated bleeding, I was terrified. I had to be transported by ambulance to a larger hospital where an MRI could be done on Saturday afternoon. Nothing like this had ever happened to me or my husband before, so neither of us – in all the panic – thought to call my insurance company to obtain pre-authorization for all of the medical services I would need. We didn’t know how much would be needed until it was happening!
Since we did not call, and since I had a Blue Cross Blue Shield high-deductible plan, many additional costs were passed on to me, and I owed far more than my already high deductible of $6,000. After leaving the hospital, I had to continue to take expensive medications to help break down the clot. Though I was directed to start this treatment the day I was discharged, the hospital had not yet submitted its bills to BCBS; without these, as far as the insurance company was concerned, I had not yet met my deductible. I was left with no choice about paying hundreds of out-of-pocket dollars for my medications, on top of my hospital bills.
I have not yet been able to pay the hospital in full, well over two years later. I feel lucky the hospital put me on an extended payment plan, and I am finally close to paying off my original hospital bills. In determining the cause of the blood clot, however, my doctors determined a number of underlying factors and possible residual effects that require medical attention and monitoring. Countless medical appointments, an additional hospital stay, and an ER visit later, my medical debt continues to grow.
I am an attorney in a public interest field (disability rights and advocacy). Though I work hard and love what I do, I do not make what people assume an attorney would. It’s hard enough to stay afloat financially without the additional medical expenses. Though I now have better healthcare coverage, I still have significant co-pays and co-insurance. I worry constantly that the repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate in the new federal tax bill will leave me with fewer health insurance options — and higher medical bills — than before.Today’s citizens (myself included) are burdened by high mortgages and rents, high utilities costs, high gas prices, and high student loan debt. We are forced to treat our health as a privilege, not a priority. As a disability rights attorney, and as a person who now has a pre-existing condition, I see first hand how the lack of affordable, quality medical care affects people of all walks of life, every day. A single payer system is necessary to make sure all New Yorkers are able to continue to lead healthy, productive lives, because anyone could have a medical emergency at any moment, and no one deserves to go into severe debt because of it.
Lauren Grace is a disability rights attorney and advocate. She practices in New York City
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