Thirteen years ago today, less than two years after our broken helath care system killed my son, it very nearly killed my husband.
He had felt a heaviness in his chest for several days, and with his family history — the men tend to die of heart attacks in their 40s and 50s — he went to the doctor. She ordered an EKG, which was alarming, so she called his cardiologist. They informed him our insurance required preauthorization for cardiograms, even after an alarming EKG. It could take a couple days.
Fortunately, he survived the wait, and the cardiologist sent us straight to the hospital. Do not stop at home, do not collect your pajamas and toothbrush, get to the ER. He was rushed upstairs and diagnosed with a nearly complete blockage of the artery knows as the “widowmaker,” and taken into surgery within an hour. Still, just as they got him onto the table, his heart quit. His doctor told me if it had happened so much as a minute earlier, he would have died. As it was, he wouldn’t be out of the woods for about 48 hours after double bypass. The wait imposed by the insurance company, which went against medical advice, very nearly killed him.
I got a little revenge two years later, when North Carolina was considering building its own Marketplace for the Affordable Care Act. I was part of a panel of stakeholders brainstorming and advocating. The rep from my insurance company stated that they would like to be able to keep costs down by insisting on preauthorization for expensive tests.
I raised my hand.
“Would that mean pre-auth for shoulder MRIs or, say, cardiograms after a bad EKG?”
“Oh, we would never do that,” she said.
“You’re gonna have to walk that back,” I said. As she reacted with shock, I added, “I have the record of when you made my husband wait 48 hours for pre-auth after a truly alarming EKG.”
More “shock” from her. “That’s inexcusable! Who’s your carrier?”
Suddenly, everyone was scribbling on their notepads. The insurance company would not get permission to demand pre-auth in cases where people’s lives were at stake. Sure, demand pre-auth for non-vital tests, but not for tests that diagnose life-threatening conditions.
The insurance company that wouldn’t sell insurance to my son and that delayed my husband’s cardiogramdamn nearly long enough to kill him is still in business. They’re classified as a nonprofit, but they are powerful and they, together with others, are loaded with cash to bribe lawmakers to maintain their power over our lives.
Yes, the Affordable Care Act forced Big Insurance to sell insurance to everyone, but copays and deductibles average almost $4,000 per person, and some of the networks are so narrow that if you fall ill on vacation, it could bankrupt you. This is at the same time nearly half of Americans say they can’t pay an unplanned expense of $400 without borrowing money.
So-called “Christians” are happy to spent $14 million on commercials to tell people Jesus loved them, but to live what Jesus told them — to heal, feed, clothe and love the poor and marginalized — seems to be beyond their capabilities. Instead, they vote for lawmakers who will impoverish them and then vilify them for being poor.
These are the same people who ask whether my son was working when he gor sick, implying that he was somehow undeserving of care, even of life itself.
Fifteen years ago today, I was in Raleigh, contemplating life without my precious son. Two years later on this day, I would be cotemplating life without my husband, all because we can’t do what every other industrialized nation has done and move to a system that covers EVERYONE.
So, if you want to talk morality, explain to me the morality of allowing tens of thousands of people to die every year, of healing only the rich, of putting and keeping people in poverty. If this is your view, you are most definitely not morally superior to anyone.