America’s Health Care System is Still Broken (May 12, 2011)

Right about now, you may be saying to yourself, “Thanks, Captain Obvious! And this just in, water is wet!” But this week, the truth of my post title hit way too close to home.

As many of you know, I am going through a rather acrimonious split from my husband of three and a half years, Eddie. As part of the rules of separation, I will be losing my current health insurance, which I was able to take advantage of through my husband’s employer. Prior to moving into a studio apartment last month, I made the rounds: gynecologist, dentist, etc. Smoke ’em if you got ’em and all that. I had my IUD removed at the former appointment, not really the funnest 10 minutes I have ever spent, but I wasn’t expecting any other developments.

I am learning as I grow older that life has a funny way of really piling it on. Because anyone who has been through it knows that getting a divorce affects everything you say, think, do and feel – for a much longer period than you may wish. It permeates every nook and cranny of your selfhood, throwing the formerly stable and assured into tremendous upheaval, and rendering the impossible suddenly all too real. As you go about daily life, the experience is disorienting, the sensation that the world should stop for just a moment and acknowledge that it has run you over. But maddeningly, it doesn’t and you learn to cope with a new reality that you never imagined.

And just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does. Remember that visit to the gynecologist I mentioned? About a week after the “routine” pap smear that was part of the exam, I received the dreaded call: my doctor (not a nurse or a junior physician) explained to me in a very calm and soothing voice that I needed to have a biopsy (also known as a colposcopy when we’re talking about the cervix) as soon as possible.

This I did on Tuesday morning, and for other women out there who have endured a colpo, you will join me in declaring it a humiliating and uncomfortable procedure in every sense. I went in hoping for the best but fearing the worst and it seems that in this case, my fatalistic outlook served me well. Because when the doctor informed me that I appeared to have Stage 2 cervical cancer (final results will be in next week, but she felt confident enough to put a surgery on the books immediately), I took it fairly well.

The prognosis is very good. I learned this week that the traditional five stages of cancer (0-4) have a number of subclassifications. I am “lucky” enough to be classified under Stage 2A, which means that the surgery, scheduled for Tuesday, June 7, ought to be enough to eliminate the disease in my body once and for all.

While I am experiencing an epic case of conflicting emotions over the tumult of 2011 thus far: alternating between the joy of finally securing gainful employment as a professional writer, only to find myself suddenly alone, and now, ill, – that is not the drive behind writing this post. In fact my intent was never to address my battle with cancer publicly at all. In the first place, I have only begun to process my feelings, and in the second, it just seemed way too personal for now (yes, even I have my limits). However yesterday I realized that there is a cause to champion through my experience that is much bigger than a little laser surgery.

My employer is set to offer health insurance for the first time. When I learned this, I was overjoyed. How fortunate was I, just as I was about to lose coverage through my spouse? However, as I entered the small office where my boss had setup the insurance rep for the day, it dawned on me that telling the man I was in active treatment for the “Big C” could create some complications.

As soon as I informed the nice gentleman about my June 7 procedure, he pleasantly pulled a business card from his wallet, wished me well and told me to call him in 2014. That is the year when the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance carriers from rejecting “clients” (because we’re certainly not fucking patients anymore), on the basis of pre-existing conditions takes effect. Until that time, I was politely told there was nothing that could be done for me, and it was further suggested that I ask my spouse very sweetly to stay legally married for as long as possible.

The agent shared with me that the only health insurance provider that will even take a look at cancer “victims” (his word, not mine) is Aetna, and then only if you’ve been in remission for five years. Well I haven’t been in remission for five minutes.

I am 32 years old, and except for a spot of cancer, am in otherwise excellent health. I am afflicted with a temporary condition which, with a little luck and medical expertise, I will be free from after June 7. But for the next 3-5 years, I have the choice of no health coverage at all, or depending on the humanity and kindness of someone who no longer wants to be part of my life. It is a lot to ask of Eddie. It is a lot to ask of my personal pride. And it is way too much to ask of human decency. I feel like I am being punished – for what exactly, I don’t know, but the sense of shame remains.

The ironic part is that I feel physically fine. I can work, write, exercise and take full advantage of what the world has to offer. Yet I am shut out from the ability to inoculate myself against the expense of unplanned accident or illness for half a decade. I can speak out about this travesty, and more than that, I must. Because what about those far sicker than me, with far less support, who suffer in unnamed silence?

I appreciate what President Obama has done to begin to correct our backward, inefficient and illogical health care delivery system, but it’s still not enough. Not by a long shot.



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