No Health Insurance? Hold on to the Bannister

September 17, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments
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Those of you who drop in from time may remember the story of my broken wrists. Last April I fell down the steps of my parish church after the Palm Sunday vigil Mass and broke both wrists, one of them very badly, and knocked the hell out of a bunch of teeth as well. In the five months since then, four of those teeth have been wired together to keep them from breaking. Try eating corn on the cob with that arrangement.

I’m writing today to update you on my situation. Not that my little miseries matter awfully compared to the much larger disasters we’re facing nationally and internationally. In point of fact, though, it turns out that my little miseries overlap with one aspect of those larger disasters, and that’s what I’m writing about today.

My wrists are a whole lot better. I went twice a week for ten weeks to physical therapy, and did exercises for half an hour four times a day. Now I can pick up fairly heavy things, get the tops off most jars (my husband says I was actually pretty bad at this before the fall) and never wake up during the night with wrist pain. I still can’t get down on my hands and knees, but the surgeon says another five months (!) of exercises and I’ll be as good as new.

With my wrists vastly improved, I went Thursday to the dentist to get the story on my teeth. Now it’s time to hold your hat: the four implants or the bridge with gold crowns that I need to repair my teeth are going to cost between $11,000 and $14,000, of which our dental insurance will pay $1500 (minus three cleanings a year).  Now the surgery on my left wrist cost $23,000, but our health insurance, though mediocre, is much better than our dental insurance: it paid all but a $300 co-pay for the surgery. Our insurer, Oxford, is more enthusiastic about surgery than about physical therapy, though; the $50 co-pay for each of two wrist therapies a week for  ten weeks added $1000 to the wrist bill. To which we are now going to add $11-14,000 for teeth.

I don’t really mean to complain about this. As my shift-worker father, Joe Ronan, used to say, “Just be glad you have the money.” Which we do have, in our savings, thank God.

What I’m thinking about, though, and you may want to think about it too, is all the people in this country who couldn’t possibly afford all this money, the people without even mediocre health and dental insurance, for whom a fall like this would mean the end of life as they have known it. As the New York Times reported this week, there are a whole lot of these people, and more all the time. According to the Census Bureau, the number of uninsured people rose to 49.9 million last year, up from 49 million the previous year. And employment-related insurance, the foundation of the US health insurance system, dropped to 55%. Fortunately, the number of people covered by government insurance programs increased for the fourth year in a row, helping to mitigate the loss of other kinds of coverage. And the new health care law which President Obama and Speaker Nancy Pelosi got through will expand Medicaid coverage for the poor and provide subsidies to help middle-income people buy private health insurance.

That’s if the Tea-Partiers don’t find some way to get that health care law repealed, or to eviscerate Medicaid by handing it off to the states, or in some other way. And if Americans aren’t so stupid as to express their anger by allowing the Tea-Partiers to do it.

But if the Tea-Partiers do succeed, and the American people let them, then the only advice I have for 49.9 million Americans and counting is this: be sure to hold onto the bannister when you’re going down the steps.

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