Tuesday, April 24, 2012

America's Health Care System is Still Broken Part II

I will keep writing about this because I am one of the lucky ones. I will keep screaming about the system's inherent abusiveness because I can and I must - for all those who are sicker, less financially solvent and don't have a forum in which their voices may be heard.

Nearly a year ago, I wrote this post, recounting the stress of divorce compounded by unexpected health news of the unfavorable kind. After being diagnosed with Stage 2A cervical cancer, I learned that I was considered persona non grata by prospective health insurance providers until I was in remission. At the time, I received the core-rattling news that none of my women's health needs would be covered for 3-5 years, or until the part of Obamacare that forbids insurance companies from playing pre-existing condition roulette with people's lives takes over in January 2013.

Since I wrote the first post in this series last year, a few important events have occurred:
  1. I underwent a successful procedure in June, 2011 that completely removed all cancerous cells from my body - no chemo or radiation required. A six-month checkup in December found no evidence of irregular growth.
  2. I have since gotten into the healthiest shape of my life. I was already no slouch in the exercise department, but have taken the upkeep of my temple in whole new directions. I have learned, through therapy and hard work, to better manage stress. I am invested in a romantic partnership that brings untold levels of peace and satisfaction. I am more careful about what I put into my body and my approach to preventive medicine has changed completely.
  3. I am officially divorced, no longer on my ex's insurance plan and employed full-time at a housewares manufacturer with great benefits.

As I have already indicated, I was fully prepared for my women's health coverage to be excluded for 2012. Whether I think the situation is fair or not (not) is irrelevant. You know the saying, "it is what it is." I was planning to bide my time, and though I am not religious, ask Mother Earth to keep the cancer at bay. My single-adult premiums on the new policy amount to $6,000 annually and while I felt forced into a "cross your fingers" strategy as pertained to the cancer, at least I would be covered under all other circumstances right? Wrong.

The new Big Brother in my healthcare decision-making world, a company that will remain nameless but rhymes with Dew Toss, Dew Field of Iroquois, has declared a blanket "pre-existing condition clause" that covers EVERYTHING for which I have ever been treated. Surprise! This clause runs the full calendar year, so I have the honor of forking over $6,000 in the event I am shot or hit by a bus (neither of which has ever happened), but if I need therapy (you know because I was depressed about having cancer), antibiotics, birth control or my first annual cancer screening - all of that must come out of my pocket. My doctor and I jumped through numerous hoops and made many arguments, to no avail. A girl who rides her bike 68 miles to work and back, under the age 35 with the bad luck to get a little spot of cancer last year, is reduced to nothingness until 2013.

And as we all know today, the conclusion above represents the best-cased scenario. Subsequent to the decision by a bunch of corporate bureaucrats that I am too risky for any sort of benefits, though my money is still welcome, a bunch of mostly old ,white men on the Supreme Court will sit in judgment of my fate beyond this calendar year. By June we are told, the ladies and gentlemen of the jury will decide whether to throw the baby out with the bathwater on health care reform, because a few hundred lobbyists and Tea Party crackpots chafe against the individual mandate portion.

So we can make car insurance as a condition of vehicle ownership law, but this is somehow different? Can they really declare that no part of the reform benefits the American people? What about the part where, I don't know, insurance companies can't refuse you access to ALL TYPES OF HEALTHCARE because you had a treatable cancer that was cured in one shot?

If the Supreme Court overturns Obamacare, I am out in the cold for 5 years, perhaps longer if an emboldened insurance syndicate decides so. I can't believe this is America.

About the Supreme Court's deliberations, the Daily Beast remarked in November of last year, "By agreeing to rule on the issue of national health care, the Supreme Court foolishly politicizes its deliberation process and needlessly damages its own reputation."

But this is about more than a simple PR misstep, the negation of jurisprudence. This is about American rights and lives. I think I have a patriotic duty to protest my provider's current right to kill or bankrupt me in the unfortunate event that my cancer recurs, or that I come down with the flu and need antibiotics and a short hospital stay. I want the Supreme Court to consider that with the same fervor with which they seem to regard a libertarian's right to refuse health coverage when that refusal burdens everyone else.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Braking Bad

"That's impossible." Thus the notion was summarily dismissed by the Vice-President of the company which employs me full-time.

My good friend and direct report, a kid who's gotten to know me rather well in recent months, turned to me and asked, "The theoretical just became a must, didn't it?"

You know it.

Ever since I began work as the Head Writer for a housewares company last fall, the thrice-weekly commute I undertake has become the stuff of legend. I do not own a car and have no plans to acquire one anytime soon. Gas prices aside, I am a single woman who lives in the middle of the City of Chicago. That means annual City stickers, registration, high insurance premiums and yes, the cost of gasoline. I have plenty of other options at my disposal, however archaic the Windy City's public transportation infrastructure might be. And of course, there's always my bike - the much-adored L'il Red.

However my company is headquartered in Libertyville, IL, close to the border of Wisconsin, roughly 30 miles from my studio. Without access to an automobile, the journey requires me to rise at 4:30 AM to depart at 6, taking the first of two commuter trains that get me to the suburbs at 8:09 AM. Once the work day is finished, I am treated to the whole thing in reverse, arriving home at 6:45 PM if I'm lucky, and 7:15 PM if I'm not. I am very fortunate that I love my work.

I am an avid cyclist, typically logging 30 miles or so per week as part of my exercise routine. As the weather started to warm in March, I toyed with the idea of taking a day's break from five plus hours on the train to spend the same amount of time on L'il Red. Don't get me wrong: I love my nap and reading time on the rails, but just this once, I figured I could experience a different challenge, a new adventure.

Folks in Libertyville, at least the ones with whom I work, don't spend a lot of time on their feet. People have been known to drive to the grocery store situated right across the road from the office. In more ways than one, I am an oddball in this crowd. Still, though I knew the plan to try a 64-mile round trip on my bicycle bookending a full work day was a little outside the box, I wasn't ready for the lack of confidence in my commitment and ability. I've done a pretty thorough job of demonstrating that I'll try anything.

And so with the refrain "it's impossible" rolling around my noggin' as a motivator, I found myself last Friday morning at 6 AM on the road to Libertyville, armed with three full printed pages of Google's beta bicycle-friendly travel directions. This is the first, perhaps the last time, I ever wished for an iPhone.

There was, I will admit, a wrong turn on the return trip home that resulted in a four-mile detour. There was the sudden awareness that L'il Red has the bike seat from hell, a factory original that pounded my poor keister for nearly 70 miles before the day was out. There was occasional whimpering in the attempt to ride standing up as I neared home. Ample thirstiness and sweating were somewhat a plague. But dammit it all, there was a lot of satisfaction and pride too. This City Girl, often the subject of confusion and good natured kidding, proved a point, to herself as well as her colleagues.

I am mentally and physically stronger than I have ever been. This almost 34 year-old finds nothing impossible anymore. And the round of applause I received when I arrived at the office, shaking and drinking a G2 with the voracity of someone wandering the desert for weeks, was deserved. So was the free lunch I scored from that VP.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Spring Awakening

When I became aware that I walking down the street holding his hand with a naked wrist and no concept of time, and I didn't even care to look for a bank clock, I knew I was changing.

When a white blonde-headed little moppet about the age of 7 stuck her head from the side window of her parents' minivan to yell "Ew!" with authority as we kissed and embraced on a heavily-trafficked street, and my first thought was not shame or self-consciousness, but laughter, I was certain I was altered.

As we walked into a local haberdashery and I donned a white hat, circa 1930, that might look well at home on the head of Chicago's seductive murderess Velma Kelly, and I vamped it up for my companion as he complimented me, instead of changing the subject and turning red, it seemed very clear that a metamorphosis had taken place, a silent sea change.

It didn't occur to me to overthink the reasons I hadn't been invited to the family Easter dinner, to wonder for the millionth time why I have to be such a damned square peg trying to contort myself into a round hole. I was too busy sitting peacefully on a park bench, watching a waterless fountain and the children climbing in and out of its troughs, my head resting comfortably on his shoulder.

I never believed a dark chocolate bunny in a faux wire cage could break my heart with its message of simple understanding and devotion. I never imagined I could love something edible that much and not for a second wish to consume it.

I couldn't anticipate that the random non-sequiturs for which I am famous, the kind of clumsiness that would make a circus clown enviousness of technique, the way I open wine bottles with my teeth when the cork gets stuck - instead of demanding forgiveness for these quirks, he would thank me for having them.

I failed to imagine that lying between strength and heat personified, bookended by a tiny gray and white cat with a pink nose, would be the most heavenly, restful sensation imaginable; that I would prefer to lie there wordlessly, sensing for the first time that creating sound to fill the space would only subtract, not add.

The only mystery that needed solving that day is why the old, cavernous bookstore to which he guided me, knowing I would delight in the endless rows of musty volumes, didn't carry more of Margaret Atwood's work.

Under no circumstances did I believe I could feel better, stronger, more confident, even sexy and powerful, simply knowing he is out there in the same city loving me.

And it seems utterly impossible that the solicitous guardian of my well-being, the one who tends to me when I am sick, who provides for my stomach, mind and soul while inspiring me everyday with his own work and passions, could be the very same man my heart wants.