Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Killing Me Softly (or Why I Think Michael Moore Is On To Something)

I'm well aware of the fact that the American health care system is broken. I've known this for quite some time, yet somehow that is of little consolation to me when I'm the target of a deficiency in my medical care.

I'm really fortunate. I work for a very large company that has gone to great lengths to provide its employees with the best health insurance possible. I will never have health insurance this good ever again. Unless I sell my soul to a corporate law firm after I graduate from law school, but that's another demon for another day. My health insurance is incredibly important to me because, unlike most 25 year olds, I actually really need it. I'm on several medications to manage my asthma problem I've had since childhood, and without CIGNA, I couldn't afford the drugs I'm supposed to take on a daily basis to make sure I can do dumb things like run 5 miles at a time and not drop dead. CIGNA is such a phenomenal insurance company that I am able to do extraordinary things like walk into my local pharmacy and pick up my 5 prescriptions at the beginning of the month and walk out without having paid much, if any, money out of pocket.

Until I can't.

I've been the unfortunate victim of my tempermental allergies and asthma this summer. My recent episodes have led me to believe it's unwise for me to be involved in any outdoor situations that don't primarily involve concrete and other non-organic ground coverings. In an effort not to turn blue and pass out while in the presence of other people, I've used more of my asthma medicine than I usually do and found myself in short supply last night while wheezing away at an outdoor Pete Yorn/Guster concert. A late night call to my Happy, Helpful Pharmacist didn't really get me anywhere. My insurance company's computer system was down last night, and despite the fact that I was the only person waiting for a prescription at midnight on a Tuesday, he wasn't able to guarantee that I'd have it before 1am. That was difficult for me to process when a)tired b)snot faced and c)wheezing like an injured accordion. Fortunately, HHP felt sort of sorry for me and handed me a box with my inhaler in it. He said that, while I couldn't take it home with me, he'd let me use some there and pick up and pay for the prescription later. I didn't have it in me to wait until 1am for my medicine. After a few hits and a Benedryl, I decided my bed would be a better remedy.

Until this morning.

Clearly NOT healed, I woke up sounding more bagpipe-ish than accordion-ish. I was in a hurry and opted to head in to work and grab a spare inhaler from the Happy, Helpful Pharmacist across the street from my office. After all, a nerd like me can't have too many inhalers. I called in my prescription, tossed back a Benedryl and Red Bull in an effort not to completely pass out face first on my desk, and popped over to pick up my inhaler. I thought I had it all figured out. When HHP2 pulled my prescription, she said my insurance declined the claim on the basis that it was a duplicate. I told her it wasn't a duplicate and explained that I was filling a separate prescription from the one I filled last night. She said the insurance considered it a duplicate because they were filled so closely together and wouldn't spring for another refill for at least two weeks. Two weeks?? Not acceptable. HHP2 offered me the option to pay for the prescription out of pocket. I was pulling my debit card out of my wallet when she announced, "That'll be one thirty five." I got a little confused. Thinking that perhaps the lack of oxygen to my brain was affecting my hearing, I asked her to repeat herself. HHP2 then said, "One thirty five. As in, one hundred and thirty five dollars."

I almost dropped dead right there, a reaction that would have completely negated any need for any inhaler at all.

One hundred and thirty five dollars? Are you effing kidding me? Needless to say, I left the pharmacy without my inhaler and vowed to wheeze all 3 verses of "Danny Boy" before I paid that much money for an inhaler. Despite all the hassle and my minor discomfort, I'll be okay. I'm still disturbed, though. Tonight after work I'll pick up my original prescription from the Happy, Helpful Pharmacist down the street from my house and huff all my problems away. Unfortunately, it's not that simple for people without insurance. Asthma is a frighteningly common disease among children, especially in urban areas. An unsettlingly large number of these children come from families who really have to stretch to make ends meet every month. $135 for a rescue inhaler is out of reach for a lot of these people, not to mention the $250+ cost for steroid inhalers intended to prevent attacks in the first place. It's easy to understand why many children then find themselves treated with simple remedies to this potentially deadly condition in an emergency room instead of at a pediatrician's office, and why your grandmother is being cuffed and cavity searched at the Canadian border for drug smuggling.

Universal health care might not be the perfect solution to our health care crisis, but when pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies make it so cost prohibitive for people to receive the sort of treatments they need to live productive and useful lives, something has to give somewhere. I'd bitch about it, but I'm keeping busy just trying to breathe.

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