Columns 2008

Health insurance is not health care

A couple of weeks ago, a columnist in this paper said we should not confuse health insurance with health care. Excluding references to Paris Hilton having no discernible talent, that may be the biggest understatement to ever appear in print.

Having health insurance, even something like I have which is considered a fairly comprehensive plan, is actually not much more than a placebo meant to lull you into a false sense of security.  Once you actually need to use your insurance, you find it has more holes in it than George Bush’s WMD argument for invading Iraq.  And if you go so far as to speak with a representative of that plan about something that seems to be so illogical as to be ludicrous, you’ll be dazzled by the circular reasoning used. You will also find yourself feeling intense anger towards a person who insists on being nice while making some of the most outlandish statements ever heard since…well, since Bush swore there were WMDs in Iraq.

For those of you who think this does not apply to you or your health insurance coverage, let’s go over some examples that you might find hidden in your plan.  If you are covered by the State of Alaska retiree insurance, which is what legislators will receive when they retire, you’ll find that no matter how many times you are told that a colonoscopy can save your life through early detection and treatment of colon cancer, your plan will not cover it unless you are actually having symptoms of colon cancer. Then, your plan will happily cover the colonoscopy needed to confirm your diagnosis.  This lends a whole new meaning to the phrase bend over and kiss your butt goodbye.

Women are routinely bombarded with public service announcements telling them how important it is to get an annual mammography and breast exam in order to detect any cancer as early as possible.  But if you have state retiree health insurance, your annual woman’s exam is not covered unless you get a PAP smear at the same time. This is because a PAP smear is covered but an annual breast exam isn’t. For those of us forced to part with our uterus for a variety of reasons, a PAP smear is not needed.  And since we aren’t getting a PAP smear, insurance won’t cover the breast exam.

So the logic, if that word can be applied to this thinking, must follow one of two tracks. Either women are no longer considered valuable without their uterus so why bother saving them from breast cancer, or the people who negotiated our health insurance benefits had their heads up the place they won’t pay for an colonoscopy to go. Perhaps while their heads are up there, they could take a quick look around for suspicious polyps.

But my most favorite moment of all came when a friend needed to screen four or five potential matches for a bone marrow transplant. Each screening cost about $5000. Her insurance company informed her that she would have to pay for the screenings herself and then they would reimburse her for the one that was a match.  Gives a whole new meaning to the value of your life, doesn’t it?

It’s hard for me to comprehend how this country can be the only one left in the industrialized world without universal health care. For god’s sake, even Cuba has better health services than we do. For those who say that a government run program would be a debacle and lead to people waiting for up to a year to get an exam or appointment, I say that at least you know you’ll eventually be seen. The way it works now, at the end of that same year, most people still won’t have the money to buy health care and they’ll still have the disease that’s killing them.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if this state, rolling in oil money and wild with spending plans, gave some serious consideration to seeing that its citizens had this most basic of needs met so that they could continue to be contributing members of our society. Because, and maybe I’m showing my bias here, I find it hard to accept a world in which, without my uterus, my breasts are left orphaned.