Archive | June, 2012

Healthcare, Health Insurance, Etc.

29 Jun

Okay, I am stumped. I want to write about health insurance and health care, but since this is a blog, and not a book, I don’t know what to write. If I leave out all of the problems with the health care system in the U.S., and all the problems with health insurance in the U.S., then I won’t have very much to write about! Plus, I was hoping that my blog could always bring a little bit of humor and positive thinking into the world, and there is simply NO humor in health insurance, even if you have it. Hmm…

Today, (June 28th, 2012) I listened to NPR’s program called “Talk of the Nation.” You can find it online at npr.org. The Supreme Court made a ruling on what folks have nicknamed “Obamacare” and it has generated a lot of discussion and news here in the U.S.A. One controversial aspect of the legislation requires all citizens to purchase health insurance. A fellow named “Joseph” who is a 27 year-old part-time janitor called in to the show and was asked by the host, Neal Conan, if he was going to buy health insurance coverage if he was required by law to do so. His reply was, “Yes, I would. I mean, I feel it’s my duty as a patriotic citizen. I mean, I’m 27 years old, and you guys have been talking about how young people would be forced into paying for the people with preexisting conditions and things like that. But as I get older, those younger people will be helping me. So I just feel it’s my duty to help them. Somebody has got to start the system going.”

Wow. Who is his mama? And how in the world did she raise such an altruistic and selfless son? My eyes literally filled up with tears when I heard him say this. And this is not good, since I was driving.

As I watch my health insurance premium climb ever higher with each passing year (it’s getting close to being the amount of my house payment), I wonder how in the world am I going to pay for the health care that I will need as get older? Yes, I do have a “medical situation” that I was born with, but like most folks, I will develop other health problems with age. And I consider myself a relatively healthy person…I don’t smoke, I eat very healthy foods (no red meat, not much salt, etc.), I take a walk every day, drink lots of water. Yet, my health insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield of NC, is hoping to get out of paying for a part of the MRI that I just had. How do I know this? They sent me a form asking me to tell them if my back problems were work related, something that might be eligible for worker’s comp. I am a sole proprietor of my business, and no, there is no worker’s comp insurance for BCBSNC to go after. Yes, my work might aggravate my back pain, but so does breathing, and I don’t intend to stop that any time soon. If I feel pain, it means I am alive! So, give me the pain. And the Tylenol.

We have a broken system here in the U.S.A. Well, it’s broken if you don’t work for some big company that provides you with health insurance. Because I am an individual purchasing coverage, my premium is more than if I were getting it through a job in a corporation, and thus, part of a group. Does that make any sense whatsoever? If I closed my business today, and got a job in a large company that provides health insurance, my health would not change, but my premium would. The premium would be less, because the insurance company would give the employees a break in the price…like a quantity discount, if you will. But, hey, why not give me, the sole proprietor, a lower rate too, for being part of a group called “the human race.” That’s not going to happen…let’s face it…companies are started in the U.S.A. so that someone or a group of people can make money. The way you make money, is to lower your cost of doing business, so that there is more profit to go around. And how do you lower your cost of doing business if you’re an insurance company? You charge the expensive people more or ditch the people who cost too much…people with preexisting conditions (like XLH, and some people with this have been rejected for insurance), people who use their insurance a lot (you know, like sick people), etc. I understand this…I am a business owner. I travel with my job and my profits are more if I have to travel to a customer who only lives 3 miles away, as opposed to 15 miles away. So, if I wanted to increase my profits, I would either charge the person more who lives further away, or choose to only serve the people who live less than 3 miles away from me.

The other difficult part of health insurance and health care is that we cannot legislate what people eat or put into their bodies, as long as it’s legal. So, if a person wants to eat 10 Twinkies and wash those down with a case of beer every day, and increase their health costs as a result, then that person is going to increase the health costs for all of us, even those who don’t eat Twinkies and drink beer. Multiply that snacker by several thousand and you’ve got yourself a higher health insurance premium for everyone, thank you very much. Most likely, though, those Twinkie-eating beer drinkers won’t be around very long to cost us extra for years and years. But, they’ll be fun to invite to parties!

It’s complicated. I don’t know what the answer is and apparently, I am not alone. Congress is full of people who really don’t know how to fix this problem with the system that we currently have. Doctors have it tough too…they do all these extra tests and procedures to cover themselves in case someone decides to sue them for not diagnosing correctly or soon enough. There are good and bad people on both sides of the equation…HMO’s who are just in it for the money, insurance people who are just in it for the money, doctors who want to help people, but have to charge an arm and a leg so that they can pay their malpractice insurance premiums and med school loans. And I know there are insurance agents who are good and honest people as well as doctors who are in it only for the money. My list could go on, especially if I included the pharmaceutical side of health care. It all reminds me of those occasional times when I reach down into my knitting bag and pull out a wad of yarn balls that have inexplicably knotted themselves together into such a mess that I wonder, “How in the world did this happen? I’ll never be able to pull this tangled mess of a knot out!”

All of this, if you think about it too much, can just be too depressing. I certainly don’t want a depressing blog. So, I googled “joke insurance agent” just to see if there IS any humor in the discussion of health insurance and healthcare. Apparently, insurance agents know how to laugh at themselves, because I found a lot of humor at the website of an insurance company. I’ll leave you with this one:

Mr. James Barricks was a rich old man dying from a rare disease. On this deathbed, he called for his insurance agent, doctor and preacher.

“I trusted each of you with my entire life. Now I want to give each of you $30,000 cash in an envelope to put in my grave. I want to take it with me.”

Mr. Barricks died and at the funeral, each one placed the envelope on top of the man, then he was laid to rest.

On the way from the funeral, in the limo, the doctor confessed, “I must tell you gentlemen, I only put $20,000 on top of Mr. Barricks. I wanted to buy this new machine that would enable me to diagnose his rare disease and save others. It’s what he would have wanted.”

Then the preacher said, “I have to confess, I only put $10,000 on top of Mr. Barricks. We needed that money to help more homeless people, and it’s what Mr. Barricks would’ve wanted.”

The insurance agent was angry at both men and said, “I can’t believe both of you, stealing from a dead man. I wrote Mr. Barricks a check for the full $30,000!”

 

© S. G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017

 

Advertisements

The MRI experience

16 Jun

Last Tuesday evening, I had my first, and I hope, only, MRI. Since this is the third time in the last 20 years that a doctor has recommended one, I figured I should go ahead and get it over with. It seems to be a rite of passage for all aging Americans with health insurance. The endocrinologist that I saw in May “ordered” it for my lumbar spine. He said he wanted to check on those possible calcifications on my spine that many XLH-ers tend to get on their bones. “I have one patient who is bedridden because of his calcifications!” he said. Gee, thanks for making my day…

Several years ago, a friend of mine had to get an MRI and she later warned me… “Banjogrrl, if you ever have to get one of these, be sure to wear earplugs! It was surprisingly loud.” I happened to recall that my friend had told me this, and I remembered to take my earplugs with me last Tuesday. We both work in a music profession that requires that we take very good care of our hearing. I’ve always done that anyway. When I was a teenager, I’d go to a concert and before getting in my seat, I would run to the bathroom and get toilet paper to stuff into my ears. I didn’t like loud music or noise.

I usually get a little anxious…just a little…before going to any medical appointments, but I was feeling pretty much like Jessie from Toy Story II. “No problem. I’ve got this under control!” Confidently optimistic. “Got my earplugs…I’m ready to go!”

Image

I know that in my first-ever post, I said that I needed to get in touch with my inner warrior, but there is also an inner cowgirl in me. Even as a child, I didn’t limit myself! (I wish I still had that holster and gun!)

Image

I sauntered, er, uh, strolled up to the check-in desk when I arrived to the MRI Depot, and, based on the amount of my co-pay, realized that this was not going to be a medical appointment but rather, a medical procedure. Yowza. I handed her my credit card.

Then the receptionist went through all the normal questions such as,

“Do you have a pacemaker?” No.

“Do you have any metal in your body?” No.

“Are you claustrophobic?” Yes.

“Are you pregnant?” Snort. No. That one always gets me. When I set up the appointment, I was asked that too. I guess these days, even an almost 52-year-old woman gets asked this question, since medical science has made it possible for women even older than I am to get pregnant, carry a baby to full term, then retire to rear their children on their social security checks.

Then I went to the back where I had to change clothes and be questioned by the assistant MRI technician. She had even more detailed questions to ask me. She used medical terms I had never even heard of, so I hope I answered them correctly. Then she said, “I guess there’s no chance you’re pregnant, is there?”

What I wanted to say was, “I did not have intimate relations with any man between the time that I arrived at the check-in desk across the hall 10 minutes ago and was asked this same question and this dressing room where we now stand.” But all I said was, “No chance!” She then pointed to the cotton drawstring britches that were custom made for Michael Jordan or any of his fellow basketball players and said, “Put those on and come out when you’re ready!” Awesome.

I carefully walked down the hallway, holding up my very long britches and headed towards the “open” MRI machine. It looked like a giant hamburger press to me. I sat on the table, stuffed in the earplugs (she agreed that some people seem to think that the machine is loud,) and she rolled me in, with that top part hovering very close to the tip of my nose. I was very glad I don’t have a long nose. The MRI assistant tech suggested that I turn my head to the side and look out the window, so I wouldn’t feel claustrophobic. She told me it would take 20 minutes. She left the room.

Then I heard a noise, like an Edgar Allen Poe story noise…a tap-tap-tapping. Silence. Then BAM! I jumped. I am pretty sure they did that on purpose so they could get all my nerves ready. They were now ready. Surely it wouldn’t get any louder than that. Then the tap-tap-tapping. Then BAM-A-LAM-A-LAM. And more BAM-A-LAM-A-LAM plus loud hums, etc. I found it to be…unpleasant. I think that Beaker from the Muppets best conveys my feelings at this point.

Image

Ever-so-slightly horrified. It was VERY loud. I could feel my ribcage vibrating. I tried to decide if it was unpleasantly interesting or interestingly unpleasant. How could something with magnets be so loud? I played with magnets as a kid. It was very quiet play.

I tried to imagine that I was listening to a very loud and very boring punk rock band warm up before a concert. Lots of bass guitar drones (on one note) and lots of drums. LOUD drums. That made me think of Animal, the drummer from the Muppets. Which sent me to my happy place, since I love Animal.

Image

Unfortunately, the “procedure” continued past the limits of my happy place. A few seconds of silence, then the tap-tap-tapping, (which I began to interpret as a warning of things to come) and then the extremely loud, monotoned rock band warm-up session. After 10 or 15 minutes my feet and calves started twitching and I thought, “Wonder what happens when someone goes into an all-out muscle spasm in one of these things? Hope I don’t find out.”

Finally, it was over. I put my better-fitting clothes back on, and walked into the waiting room where Professorgrrl was waiting for me.

“How was it?” she asked. I was still able to hear. That was a good sign.

“Root canal,” I said, “it ranks right up there with root canal in unpleasantness.”

“It hurt?”

“Of course it didn’t hurt! Root canals don’t hurt either if they’ve deadened your mouth enough, but they are highly unpleasant, with all the drill noise in your skull and keeping your mouth open for long periods of time. They are unpleasant. An MRI is unpleasant. And loud. Unbelievably loud.”

I found it ironic that not one single medical person mentioned to me beforehand that I should wear earplugs. I wondered if I should report them to the Audiology Police.

Through all of this, though, I had a song running through my head., which I credit for helping me to keep my sanity. I just recently downloaded the album by Adele called “21.” She is an incredible singer, and her music is so soulful and intense and heart-breaking. I had been listening to her album during the day on Tuesday while I drove out of town for my job. So, one song in particular was stuck in my head. I don’t know how, really, since I can scarcely understand her lyrics, but the intensity, the beat, the emotion, the tune was running through my head while the rock band drums of the MRI were beating in my ears. Adele got me through those 20 minutes of aural unpleasantness. When we got home, I looked up the song, since I didn’t know the name of it (and seriously, could only understand only about half the lyrics) and it’s called, “Set Fire to the Rain.” Hmm. That title is a paradox, really. Sort of like NOT telling your patient who makes her living by using her ears that you’re getting ready to expose them to dangerous levels of noise in a confined space.

I’m just going to step up on my soapbox and say that it is well documented that MRI’s can cause hearing damage. I can’t believe that not one single medical person or technician or ANYONE who was involved with my appointment mentioned to me that I should wear hearing protection, and of a noise reduction rating of at least 29 decibels. In fact, I should not even have to bring my own, but they should provide every single patient with ear protection for their MRI’s. Some places do this. Apparently the place where I went did not. Some websites even said that the noise is also loud enough to cause a person with an anxiety disorder to have an anxiety attack. I had actually thought to myself as I was lying there… “Wow…glad I don’t have an anxiety disorder.”

Okay. Stepping down off my soapbox. Back to Adele and her album, “21. ” It is REALLY good. I like to play it in my car while driving, with the volume turned WAY up.

© S. G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017

An Ode to Bones

4 Jun

I have been at the beach. I love the beach! I enjoy fishing at the beach and I love to look for seashells. When I was a child, I used to get up very early, “at the crack of dawn” so the southern saying goes, and walk along the seashore looking for seashells, which are technically the calcified external skeletons of mollusks. I only wanted to find the perfect ones…sand dollars, olive shells, conch shells, etc. I did not want imperfect specimens!

The beach that we went to last week has mostly broken shells. The perfect ones are difficult to find, especially now that I am older and “getting up early” means after the sun and everyone else have been up awhile. I have to have a cup of coffee before I can think of what it is I want to do next.

Last week, however, was my week for finding BONES that had washed up on the beach. I am fairly certain they are fish bones. (At least, I hope so!) I know that they are not shark bones because sharks don’t have bones. They have skeletons of cartilage, which makes them very flexible creatures; however, they do have calcifications in their vertebrae. I caught two sharks last week. Bones or no bones, they DO have teeth, which makes them challenging to get off the hook! I successfully released them back into the water. The last time I was at this particular beach, I caught a shark that was about 30” long. More cartilage, bigger teeth.

Image

Being an XLH-er, I have a particular interest in bones. My endocrinologist told me in May that he thought that it was ironic that folks with XLH can’t properly make good, hard bone, but our bodies are good (unfortunately) at forming calcifications outside of the joints, like around the knees or in the back, as we get older. I guess our bones are similar to the skeltons of sharks…more like cartilage! Soft…too soft, really. And those aggravating calcifications…

The bones that I found last week at the beach have a beauty of their own. I presume they are fish bones. If they are not, then I may have evidence from a crime scene. These look like part of a vertebrae to me.

Image

Image

Here’s a close up shot where you can actually see the porous texture of the bone.

Image

Unfortunately, in order for me to enjoy the beauty of these ocean-worn boney remains, the fish had to meet their maker.

Image

But be reassured…no fish met its maker while I was fishing last week. In fact, several were fed quite well with the bait that I supplied them!

So, here’s a toast to bones…soft ones, hard ones, normal ones, abnormal ones. Not only are they important to our bodies, the English language also has many idioms using the words “bone” or “bones.” Something can be “bone dry” and you can “work your fingers to the bone.” Ouch! You can have a “bone to pick” or you can “make no bones about it.” Children learn to say at an early age, “Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” (Which, as adults, we know is not true!) A search of the Bible, including the Old Testament (Hebrew scriptures) and the New Testament, comes up with more than 75 verses that use the word “bones” in either a literal or metaphorical sense. I like Proverbs 14:30, which says, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Note to self: don’t be envious!

Bones…take care of them! Reduce your caffeine intake, cut out the carbonated drinks (one website referred to sodas as “Osteoporosis in a Can”) and exercise as much as you are able (and it doesn’t get much better than a walk on the beach.) This advice I am giving to myself as much as anybody…summer is almost here and I do love an occasional cold diet soda. But I am going to try not to be envious or drink any more sodas…I definitely do not want to rot my bones, such as they are!

© S. G. Hunter and Banjogrrldiaries, 2012-2017