Ready or Not #164: Insurance and Medical Care

There has been a lot of talk about health care reform and insurance lately.  This isn’t a political narrative, but you will discover some of my political feelings in this article.  I have lived without insurance, I have lived under socialized medicine and I am now experiencing the blessings of being protected by insurance.

When I lived in Denmark as an exchange student, I experienced socialized medicine – and it wasn’t pretty.  My Danish mother was a nurse in the Danish health care system and she didn’t like it either.  I had friends that couldn’t get the medical care they needed and it just broke my heart.  The propaganda of a government run health care system might sound good to some, but until you have experienced it, you just can’t understand how bad it is.

My husband and I raised our young family for 14 years without health insurance.  We owned our own businesses and we were considered to be “working class poor” and we simply couldn’t afford to purchase private insurance.  Were we nervous about not being protected by health insurance?  Absolutely!  Did we just give up and complain about the government not giving us options? No!  We took responsibility for our own health care.

During the time that we were without insurance, were we always healthy and without problems?  If only.  We had: two broken hands, a broken toe, stitches, several x-rays, a couple of CT scans and an operation that we had to pay for, chronic illnesses, on-going pharmaceutical needs, dental expenses, orthodontia and more.  That is not counting the annual physicals and shots that we needed as a family.

So how did we do it?  Very carefully, very diligently and VERY proactively.  For all of you who might have lost their insurance due to job loss, or other extenuating circumstances, I want you to look at your health care differently than you might have in the past.  Even with my health insurance now, I look at it as a catastrophic health care back-up and not a poor me “I’ve got a sniffle and my deductible hasn’t been met yet and so I have to pay for the doctor visit” care.  Be thankful if you never meet your deductible, that just means that you and your family are fairly healthy and if paying a few medical bills is the worst thing that happens, then be thankful, very thankful – and pay for the doctor visits without complaint, even if you have to make payments.

When our children got sore throats, instead of making an expensive doctor appointment, we took them to the doctor’s office lab and had them tested for strep first.  That saved us a lot of money.  Strep needs to be treated with antibiotics, that only a doctor can prescribe, but a cold can be treated by homemade chicken soup and it is a lot cheaper for a test than for a doctor visit.

Another way you can be proactive about your health care is to barter and/or pre-pay.  When my husband needed surgery, we approached the doctor ahead of time.  We told him that we didn’t have insurance and asked if there was anything we could do to save on the cost of the operation.  He talked to us for awhile and he told us that if we paid for the surgery in advance that he would lower the cost.  He also needed a few rooms at his house and his front door painted and he would trade his services for my husband’s services (my husband was a painting contractor.)  He also gave us the option of having an anesthesiologist to put my husband under during the operation, or just have a local anesthesia.  My husband chose the local; personally I would have paid for the anesthesiologist!  In the end, we set up a payment plan with the hospital and the operation ended up costing us about a 1/3 of the original cost and a little bit of our time.  My husband was once again healthy and our budget didn’t completely fall apart.

Another time my son fell on his bike and his handlebar all but impaled him.  We were worried about his liver or spleen being lacerated.  We ran him to the doctor’s office (not the emergency room) and he ordered x-rays.  When the bill for the x-rays came back, they were twice the cost of what I expected; so I did my homework.  I got the original orders and called other facilities, of equal to or better than, and compared their costs to what I had been charged.  I found that I had been grossly over-charged and I took my findings to the facility in question and showed them my findings.  They apologized, lowered the price of the tests and together we set up payments that I could afford.

When my daughter broke her toe on a Sunday, we didn’t rush her to the emergency room – it wasn’t a life or death problem.  Yes it hurt, and we gave her an OTC pain medication and kept her foot elevated, but the doctor wouldn’t have been able to do anything until the swelling had gone down anyway – and that would be on Monday.  The doctor fixed it the next day and all was well – and less expensive.  Think things through and don’t rush to the emergency room if the problem is not life threatening.

Whatever you do, don’t put your health in jeopardy.  If something needs to be taken care of, then take care of it, it will be less costly in the long run – and then, put it on a payment plan.

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