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On Getting Hurt (While Uninsured)

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There is a website floating around currently called The title is apt, obviously, because the site’s main and sole focus is to present, plainly, the current-president’s ostensibly impressive list of accomplishments. Elegantly glib, swear words are thrown around for effect. “Big fucking deal,” it says. What else?”

For the legions of post-college disoriented twenty-somethings, the biggest “else” is likely one particular component of the Health Care Reform Bill. This is the part that allows children to remain on their parent’s health insurance up until the age of twenty-six. For a demographic known to be jobless and reckless, that’s a big fucking deal.

But there are problems with the bill, and they mostly have to do with time and loopholes. Some insurers have managed to work the new plan by delaying when they will offer the extended coverage. For me and many others, this means that those insurance benefits are going to be MIA until next year. Better late than never.

So it was a kind of awful convergence of circumstance that I found myself in as I sat in a hospital emergency room with one eye shut and searing with pain. I was injured and desperate and uninsured. There are a lot of scary words thrown around in emergency rooms – “surgery”,  “dead”, “pregnant”, etc – but insurance is probably the most horrifying. And it’s even worse when it’s used in a sentence, as in, “Do you have insurance?”

In this case, the answer was a definite “no”. But it was a strange “no”, something more similar to what a schoolchild might say when her teacher asks if she has done her homework. There were elements of both hesitation and shame, and also fear. I honestly felt that I had let the doctor down, and it pained me.

But the pain in my left eye was worse. Whether or not I had insurance was only half as important as determining why I was half-blind and in anguish. The doctor told me it was a “severe corneal abrasion” which is doctor-speak for a scratched eyeball. It was a freak accident, not at all my fault but nonetheless something I was now charged with rectifying. The doctor peered closely at me, and from what I could, through the pus and tears, spot the pitying grimace that he had on his face. I sighed.

…but I sighed a lot more a few days later. Sitting in the hospital’s financial counselor’s office, the mission now was to figure out how I was paying for my emergency room visit, the optometrist appointment, and the antibiotic eye drops. After attempting to work the Medicaid system by factoring in only my pay stubs reflecting my lowest earnings, and deciding it wasn’t worth the effort, we settled on applying for New York’s HHC Options. HHC offers a fee-scale for visits, hospital stays, surgeries, and prescriptions. It sounded like a good idea.

So if you are uninsured and under twenty-six, do yourself a number of favors. For one, be really nice to mom and dad between now and whenever their insurers decide to extend their coverage. Talk to them once in a while, and maybe perhaps visit once or twice if you haven’t already moved back home. More importantly, if you don’t have insurance, don’t get hurt. Stay indoors if you really have to. Order take-out exclusively. Work from home. And whatever you do, don’t let anything scratch your eyeballs. Because that’s no fun.

photo courtesy of flickr user Anamorphic Mike.

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