Friday, April 14, 2006

Another happy customer... the health care experience!

I was thinking about my latest post and was feeling a little down on myself for not seeing the doctor. So, I called our clinic and explained that I have been sick all week and I would like to see a doctor today. I was told, very quickly, that it wasn't possible to be seen today. My only options were to, "find another clinic that might have openings or try urgent care."

My wife is paying $400 a month for the basic health care plan for all three of us (my current employer doesn't provide health insurance). Since it's just the "basic" plan, as opposed to something much more costly, our co-pays are a bit higher than the premium plans, and medications are barely covered at all. Also, we have more limitations in terms of which health care providers we can choose.

That last bit is interesting. Our selection of doctors is smaller in the basic plan. Why is that? Is the reason I can't see a doctor when I'm sick because the basic plan doctors are overloaded by requests for appointments?

As I mentioned in an early post, "urgent care" doesn't really exist. It's just another way of saying, "Go to the emergency room." For pink eye? Sure. Not only is a huge time commitment, but it's just ridiculous to go to the emergency room for something that doesn't really qualify as an emergency. Even worse, the co-pay for an ER visit jumps from $30 to $150.

Basically, what this boils down to is this: you can see your doctor when you're healthy and have the luxury of being able to plan ahead, but don't expect to see him when you're sick. If you find your sickness to be bad enough that you still feel that you should see a doctor, your best bet is to go the emergency room and sit for several hours, feeling guilty about taking up valuable time for something so trivial. What makes this even more ludicrous is the fact that we're lucky that we even have health insurance. An alarming number of families don't. If I can't see a doctor when I'm sick, what about the people who don't have insurance? If a $150 co-pay for an ER visit is high enough that it causes a financial hardship for me, what about the people who don't even have a co-pay? Either they don't pay at all or they spend months, maybe even years, paying off a visit for their son or daughter's persistent earache.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. I don't think anyone does, but it's clear, not just from my story, but thousands of others, that there is something deeply wrong with our health care system. Other countries have figured out something a little more workable. Why is the United States, the so-called "greatest country in the world" so poor at taking care of the needs of its citizens? I have some theories, but they'll have to wait for another day and another post.

No comments: