Insurance

Sometimes you find yourself wandering along a beach, marveling at the beauty all around you and then life comes at you with a whoosh and suddenly you find yourself standing on the opposite shore scratching your head and wondering how you got there.

Literally.

Rochi has had an ear problem for months now. We saw five different doctors in Hawaii and nobody could fix it. All along we’ve been paying cash for these services because we can’t even apply for insurance until open enrollment in November. That insurance doesn’t take effect until January, and when/if we finally do get it, the monthly premiums cost as much as our Tokyo rent used to cost except that rent did not also demand deductibles and co-pays and other fancy words that boil down to “shut up and do as you’re told.” Until then, I had been feeling smug that I had bought a house and, for the first time in my life, was not paying rent. Lesson learned.

The last doctor we saw said we’d done everything we could do at the clinic level. The next step would be a CT. Without insurance, the test alone would cost at least two months’ rent. She told us point blank that we’d be better off coming back to Japan.

So that’s what we did. We arrived on a Tuesday night. By Wednesday lunch time, he had insurance, we had seen doctors and been given medication. Total cost: about $50. A week later we spent a full day at the hospital, he had multiple examinations, two CT scans and prescription medications. Bill for the day: almost $200.

As we were riding the shiny new escalator toward the exit from the clean, modern hospital, we were both doing the math in our heads. In the States, that day alone would have cost us two trips to Japan, flying business class and staying in fancy hotels, maybe even a Rolex or two. Or about 2.5 years’ rent.

In the United States, people die, they DIE, because they’re afraid to go to the doctor. It’s not the pain that is so scary, it’s the bills that arrive weeks later, unexplained but final. Thou shalt pay. End of story. They even send email with the heading, “Great news! You have a new e-document.” I understand these documents are sent by computers but at some point, some actual semi-human organism must have written those words with that intended purpose. “Great news! You’re still sick and now you owe a bazillion dollars! Yay!” This is cruelty that borders on sadism. But the real irony, and the ultimate insult, is that there is nobody to explain and nobody to blame. You can call every number they give you, but everyone you speak to will tell you the same thing: “We don’t make the rules. We just send the bills.” I keep hearing voices in my head saying, “I’m not responsible. I was just following orders.” Where have we heard that before?

I have even sensed an undertone of, “You should be grateful you got to see a doctor at all.”

Really?

Are we talking about the same United States? The land of the free, where we have a right to the pursuit of happiness but not to basic healthcare? Is this the same home of flag-wavers who claim a love of God and equality for all but run for cover when we talk about universal health coverage? I thought we were talking about the United States where we have indoor plumbing and clean running water and safe food and cell phones and WiFi and Sunday football. But I guess these pleasures don’t extend to anyone who is running a temperature.

It seems fundamentally wrong that we have so many basic freedoms, things we take for granted, when millions of people around the world go without milk or shoes or education. We complain about slow Internet while people in our own country, maybe even next door, die of a simple infection they can not afford to treat.

We are lucky. We had the Japan option. But what happens to people who don’t? Not for the first time, I am ashamed of the country I represent.

Fool Me Once

Tuesday was a true day in paradise…almost. First thing in the morning, I went to yoga at the Hawaiian Sanctuary, where the name speaks for itself. In the late afternoon, we drove to Keaau where we signed up for taiko drumming lessons, something we’d both wanted to do for years. It doesn’t hurt at all that the lessons take place in a Buddhist temple.

Hongwanji

Yes, I get the irony that we had to move to Hawaii to study Japanese drumming. It’s the same irony by which Lava Tree State Park is closed due to lava. Life’s little quirks are what make it worth living.

In between yoga bliss and drumming delights, though, was an endless phone call with health insurance people, or at least that’s what they called themselves.

I was nervous about this, having heard what a nightmare healthcare has become in the States, and knowing I was spoiled by my Japan’s socialized medicine system. But the rate they offered was just expensive enough to seem legitimate and yet not outrageous. As I sat there answering questions, giving away personal information, I had an inkling that I was being scammed but was unable to do anything about it, like slowing down to look at a wreck on the highway. Unfortunately, I was the wreck. Nobody wants to admit they’re being scammed; on some level we believe that makes us stupid. I got passed along from Kind Keri to Gentle Jimmy, feeling more and more stupid as time passed and when I finally started to object, they switched me to Chris the Dickhead.

Chris: I’m sorry this is so confusing for you.
Me: I’m not confused at all. You keep contradicting what Keri and Jimmy said.
Chris: Yes, I understand that you’re confused.
Me: Stop being so condescending. You’re the one who doesn’t have his story straight.
Chris: I’m not being condescending.
(“I’m not hungry,” said the Big Bad Wolf as he swallowed Little Red Riding Hood.)
Me: Fine. But you’re not making any sense, either.
Chris: Sweetie, if you would like me to explain it again, I’d be happy to.
Me: Did you just call me ‘sweetie’?

If it had been my grandmother who said that, or even YOUR grandmother, it might have been all right, but instead it was a nasty, knuckle-dragging, kindergarten drop-out who had decided that bullying was the way to get me to agree to this policy. I was incensed and therefore grateful when he switched me back to Gentle Jimmy. I suppose that’s all part of the strategy. These people know what they’re doing.

By the time I got back from drumming and read the documents and did some online research and gradually realized how completely I’d been taken in, it was too late to call them and argue. It didn’t matter, though. The damage had been done and I knew I would have to do some fancy footwork to get out of it. That meant getting up early to call my bank where I cancelled my debit card and then call the fake insurance people who cancelled the policy, or so they said. The phone rang and rang but nobody ever answered at the number they told me to call to confirm my refund.

Exhausted, I stared at the ceiling and tried to understand what had happened. Basically, they said I qualify for a good rate because I am healthy, unlikely to need drug or alcohol abuse treatment nor have babies, which means I wouldn’t be needing to use the insurance, which only covers preventive testing anyway. So that means they wanted me to pay more than $300 a month to NOT get hurt or sick. In other words, I would be paying for being healthy. In yet other words, I would be paying for something I already own.

Lesson one: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Lesson two: All future telemarketers who want to sell me insurance will be informed that I am Amish and therefore do not own a car and do not believe in insurance*; they’re probably too stupid to realize that I don’t have a phone, either.

 

 

*Kudos to the brilliant mind of Joyce Watkins Gardner for this one.

orchid