Morsels of Truth
Several years ago I was eating supper and bit down on something hard. It felt like I had been shot in the jaw with a rusty 16 penny nail. This was at about 7:00 PM. I couldn't go to a dentist for several reasons. Dentists aren't open at 7:00 PM. Also, I did not have a dentist. I had not been to a dentist in about a decade. Which sort of explains the random exploding tooth syndrome.
These days when you get hurt it’s not enough to just think, “Ouch.” You also have to think, “I hope my insurance covers this.” But even worse, if you need a doctor you have to think, “Who did I vote for in the last election and does that politician support easy and affordable healthcare?”
In the old days you only needed to contact your government officials if, say, your child was being unjustly held in a prison in Zambonia. I bit down on some gristle and my first thought was, “Call a congressperson! I need a dentist!”
I read recently that some policymakers in Washington, supported by WV Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, who is running against Joe Manchin for US Senate, are proposing to do away with the rule that requires insurance companies to insure people whether or not they a have a pre-existing condition. Our very own WV legislative leaders have not committed to do anything about that if it happens.
Everybody has a preexisting condition. We were born. We are going to die. There's nothing tremendously funny about that. It's just an irony. Health insurance companies want you to do exactly two things. They want you to pay them hundreds, maybe thousands, of dollars a month your entire adult life so that you are insured if you get sick. Then they want you to die as fast as possible, preferably of a heart attack or lightning strike.
They really don't care how you die, so long as you have the decency to do it fast and without any medical costs. If you require medical care in your chosen manner of death they have to give away some of those tens of thousands of dollars you paid them over your lifetime. And they don't want to pay any of that money to anybody but themselves. But they do pay some of that money to politicians who help them keep their money by making it more expensive- or impossible- for you to have insurance.
Politicians ought not be involved at all in this process. But, where there is money, there are politicians. Being sick or hurt is bad enough on its own. Now a days, having a doctor isn’t enough. You need to eat right, exercise, see a doctor regularly, and vote healthy.
I'm a self-employed artist. Believe it or not, there is no Dental Insurance Package handed out to self-employed artists. My wife, Paula, and I have two kids. When are kids were younger my wife and I didn't go to the dentist so that we could afford to send our kids to the dentist on a regular basis. Like so many caring parents on a budget in America, my wife and I chose to ensure our kids wellness before our own. The kids had, and have, healthy teeth. My back tooth had just erupted in scorching pain.
When you are under-insured and are suddenly hit with spontaneous pain it makes you wish you had gone to school, like everyone told you to, and become an actuary who worked for a solid company. But the desire to be an actuary only lasts until the pain fades.
Paula did what people in the modern era do in the face of an emergency. She got on the internet. She looked up natural analgesics. Which, I later learned, means natural pain killer. It's a good thing she looked it up, too. I'm a terrible speller. Had I tried to type in analgesic and hit Enter, who knows what would have come up?
Paula discovered garlic was a natural pain killer. She stuffed my mouth full of garlic and put me in front of the TV. I knew my time on Earth was short because she then handed me the remote. Sure, I was going to get to spend the last few hours of my life in pain and gagging on garlic. But I was going to get to choose the channel!
Paula is a great wife. In the morning she got up and started calling dentists. She didn’t kiss me good morning. I was steeped in garlic. Instead, she put the cat's litter box next to me as an air freshener.
She called a bunch of dentists. Time after time she was told they could not see me because I was not a pre-existing patient. Like I, as a person, did not exist until I needed healthcare. When the receptionists said, “We can’t see him. He’s not a pre-existing patient,” I seriously began to wonder if maybe I was actually invisible to all dentists. It dawned on me that this type of language is just the beginning of the problems with the American medical system.
Let's face it. All healthy people are pre-existing patients. We are all going to get sick. You may be twenty three years old with sculpted abs right now. You might believe you are invincible. But something is going to drive you to seek a medical professional at some point. It might be a tooth ache. It might be something worse. You are going to ignore aches and pains and hope they just go away. But someday, something is going to happen.
You are going to want to see a doctor. The doctor is going to be less eager to see you because you are not a pre-existing patient. The doctor also isn't going to want to see you if you don't have health insurance. Worse, your elected officials might be in the way of you getting healthcare. Some politicians want to help insurance companies deny you healthcare if you have a pre-existing condition.
Medical costs are so high that you pretty much have to have health insurance. And you have to die. Health insurance companies just don't want you to die in a way that costs them money. So, as strange as it may seem, if you want to live a long life you need to call you legislators and ask them to help you have affordable healthcare.
In the past, health insurance companies were allowed to refuse you to sell you insurance if you had a preexisting condition like high blood pressure, or diabetes, or mental health issues, or a sick kid, or any number of other ailments. They could say no if it looked like you were going to cost them money. Then the government told the insurance companies they had to take you, not matter what. Now the government wants to change its mind and tell the insurance companies they can deny you again.
Do we really want to refuse people health care because they are sick? Something like 45%, or 800,000, West Virginians have pre-existing conditions. That means half the people you know are already in a medical pickle.
Medical costs are ridiculously high. People will tell you that costs are so high because doctors and hospitals are forced to treat people who can't pay their bills because those people don't have insurance. Insurance companies don't want to insure sick people because then the insurance companies have to pay the hospitals and doctors. So costs go up. It is what you call a quandary. Who can best solve this medical dilemma? A doctor? A nurse? Don’t be silly. If you want healthcare you can afford, it’s up your state and US legislators. Turns out your #1 preexisting condition is who you voted for.
My tooth? Oh, that turned out fine. If by fine you mean a dentist painfully jabbed my jaw with needles until it stopped hurting. Then he took what looked suspiciously like pliers and reached in my mouth and shattered my hurting tooth. Then he pulled all the shards out of my jaw. Then I paid his nice receptionist a lot of money. Then I got dry socket and wished I had my aching tooth back. Or that I was an actuary.
For more WV Strong coverage of the ongoing conversation around Pre-Existing Conditions check out Dan Heyman's "If The Writ Hits The Fan: Can West Virginia Protect People with Pre-Existing Conditions."
Bil Lepp is a nationally renowned storyteller and a PEN Award winning author. To see more of Bil's WV Strong content click here.