BY SYLVIA FAIRCLOTH
I used to work for the government. They provided excellent insurance coverage – Blue Cross Blue Shield. My coverage included hospitalizations, preventive health, and doctor’s appointments – it was a family plan. I had all the bells and whistles. There was no reason for me to know anything about “hardship relief”… yet.
In 2003 I left my government position and soon after, I began to experience migraine. It was debilitating to the point of leaving me in bed. The sun bothered me; so did noise and light. This turned out to be the beginning of a nightmare that led to an emergency surgery.
My insurance coverage continued about 40 days after leaving my govt. job. When I called several doctors offices to schedule a visit they refused because I didn’t have active ongoing insurance.
A THIRTY THOUSAND DOLLAR SURPRISE!
So my 40 days came and went and I was out of options. At this point I rested and took over-the-counter headache medicine. The migraine got worse and I found myself in the ER.
When I got around to telling them I didn’t have insurance I was given a “Responsibility Form”, which made me responsible for the bill after receiving treatment. I signed the form. I figured it will probably be a couple hundred dollars (I’d never been hospitalized in the ER before). Unfortunately, this was not the case.
They performed an emergency hysterectomy. Labs had found significant blood loss that was traced back to my uterus. After the surgery I ended up with a collapsed lung and paralyzed intestines. I would need home-care after I was released. The anxiety of how high the hospital bill would be was suddenly overwhelming.
I had always had some type of insurance. Without it, I felt incredibly vulnerable. I had been in the hospital for eight days, gotten excellent care, but ended up with a bill over $30,000.
Before being discharged, a short pleasant looking lady approached me. She was from the financial department. Knowing I had no insurance, we discussed something called “hardship relief”. She told me that she couldn’t promise me anything. Still, I felt a sense of calm flow through me.
She had a detailed list of everything I owed and for what. I had to provide a lot of information: my rent, utilities, food expenses, transportation expenses, car payments and who else lived in my household. The process from applying to their final decision took 3-months.
During my rehabilitation and nursing home-care I received a letter stating that one half of the $30,000 hospital bill was satisfied. I was very glad about that. I made a payment arrangement for the balance.
HAVING and MAINTAINING HEALTH INSURANCE
This unexpected problem drove home the importance of having health insurance. Without it, the stress and worry of my financial responsibility was terrible. I was still left with a substantial debt to pay but the hospital’s Hardship Relief program made it manageable.
Based on my personal experience, if you leave your job, try to maintain coverage for as long as you can. You can research health insurance plans that you can afford either privately or through the government healthcare exchange. We can’t predict the future, which is why health insurance is so vital. With it, you can have access to emergency medical treatment when you really need it without the fear of financial collapse.
Sylvia Faircloth obtained her Doctorate from Esoterica Theological Seminary in 2008. She is a freelance writer and author of several books published by Lulu. Sylvia is currently on the Reader’s Advisor Group for Arthritis Today magazine and is an ambassador for US Pain Foundation. She has also published on Health Union where she writes about living with pain. Sylvia is a speaker for Arthritis Foundation, Diabetes Foundation and is a Lupus advocate. She enjoys time with her family and reading great books at her home in Northern Virginia.