Uninsured Americans Are Crowdsourcing Health Care Costs
When the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, more colloquially known as “Obamacare,” was signed into law on March 23, 2010, and then upheld by the Supreme Court on June 28, 2012, most Americans, be they Republican or Democract, expected grand changes in the American health care system. Those expectations were unwarranted, but neither side of the political divide did anything to change that.
As is customary with government programs of this size, the average citizen can’t wrap their head around the details. Regardless of whether a person supports or disapproves of the Affordable Care Act, most don’t even know what the hell it does. If millions of people in this country still don’t understand the meaning of the movie, Inception, then they’re hopeless when faced with a gigantic document that seeks to rearrange the entire structure around how they receive medical care.
[AUTHOR’S NOTE: It was a dream. Leonardo DiCaprio was still in the dream the whole time.]
Republicans made the Affordable Care Act sound like a massive socialist conspiracy. Democrats made it appear to be the ultimate answer to all of our health care problems. Neither hyperbolic claim is true; in fact, some provisions are so absurd that they will never affect anyone. I bet you were not aware that a 10 percent sales tax was levied on all indoor tanning services. If you did notice, you’re probably not the sort of person the Affordable Care Act was designed to help. You probably also don’t know that even after all provisions of the bill are enacted, the Congressional Budget Office still anticipates that the United States of America will have 26 million uninsured individuals. Three million people originally set to receive vital health insurance through the expansion of Medicare were denied that insurance when the court struck down any expansion of the program.
One such uninsured individual, David Price, is searching for assistance outside of government and private insurance. Just this month, David went biking alone in a canyon in Texas. During a routine ride, his gears jammed on a downhill slope. Unable to brake, David hit a large bump in the trail, the bike sailed out from under him and he fell face-first into the ground.
An ambulance ferried him to the nearest hospital emergency room for treatment of his numerous injuries. There were multiple fractures around his right eye, and his upper jaw was dislocated from this bottom jaw and free-floating. A plastic surgeon operated on him for six hours, placing titanium in his eye socket and shaving off parts of his jaw so that it would align again. He still can't eat solid food, is missing a tooth, and can never do anything that would risk straining his jaw or that could adversely affect his blood flow for at least half a year
The following are his outstanding medical bills:
Hospital Stay: $44,790
ER Doctor: $354
Plastic Surgeon: $18,500
CT Scans: $1,033
David owes in excess of $69,000 and is a freelance editor with no hope for health insurance, because the Editors’ Guild makes it almost impossible for anyone to get in and receive their benefits. Like many in this country, he is completely unaware of the finer details of the Affordable Care Act and is scrambling for a solution to his dire emergency.
In order to raise the money necessary to stave off bankruptcy, David has set up an account on YouCaring.com, which is akin to Kickstarter for things more important than a movie version of Veronica Mars. Unlike many other fundraising websites, YouCaring.com takes no fees from money raised for medical assistance, but they do give people the option to donate to the operation of the site.
With six days left and only $5,245 raised, David and I spoke about the challenges he faces and how they are far from unique.
VICE: YouCaring seems, at first glance, to be a great resource. Have you tried any other health care fundraiser services?
David Price: YouCaring was the first fundraising tool that we tried. All I can really say is that it's nice to know it's there. Many of my friends and several people I've never met have supported me via the site. It was extremely uplifting for me while I could barely speak to see the support and kind words from so many people. I'm very lucky to have so many friends in my life.
How close are you to your goal?
The YouCaring fundraiser is a great support, though as of now, is only able to account for 6.7 percent of my projected medical bills. Still, it's a continuing process and there is hope left. I'll very likely be looking into getting insurance as well. As much as it pains me that there are companies who profit from growing medical costs, it is a monster that can't be defeated. If I can shatter half my face while on an easy bicycle ride, who knows what could happen next? My leg could be blown away by shrapnel from a falling meteor five minutes from now. There are so many things beyond our control, however unlikely they may seem, they're events that only take a second to ruin a person financially.
How were you treated in the hospital, considering you didn’t have insurance? Did the staff treat you differently?
While in the hospital, I was treated kindly by the staff, though I still found it a restless and completely miserable experience due to loud machinery and being unable to sleep. Apart from a brief, uncomplicated surgery in 2003, in which I was in-and-out of the hospital in a day, I haven't been hospitalized while on an insurance plan, so I'm not sure I can draw a fair comparison. Apart from dealing with my injuries, the whole experience has been extremely stressful. A couple of hospital staff members at Henry Mayo approached me with payment-assistance plans, which unfortunately, I don't qualify for.
Where do you stand with the hospital now?
I'm still negotiating this with the hospital. Their scale is based on annual incomes and family size. I, being a single man, must make under $22,000 a year to qualify for their trauma-assistance plan. Unfortunately, I work freelance as an editor for television and film, and my yearly income is staggeringly different from year to year. I am currently working the steadiest job I've had at the best rate I've ever been paid, which would be great if I didn't just smash my face into the ground. The hospital sees this income, and concludes I'm capable of paying off nearly $70,000 of medical bills, which includes a $607.50 charge for Neosporin (outrageous). The hospital does not take into account that my work is not guaranteed, that I have zero job security, and that over the last three years my annual income averages $13,000. The hospital has mailed me a different charity application that I will fill out, with a letter explaining my situation. I can only hope that progress is made. Meanwhile, I am seriously considering hiring a lawyer or healthcare advocate to go over my hospital bills and aid me in negotiating reasonable prices for Neosporin and everything else. I wish to avoid bankruptcy at all cost.
Even if you get insurance, would this be considered a preexisting condition? Is there any provision in the Affordable Care Act that could help?
I'm looking into back insurance claims this week. So far, it looks like any company will file it under "preexisting," because, well, it kind of is. I'm going to look into Obamacare. I'm not sure how it will be much different, but we shall see. I'm also looking into lawyers, but as I don't know any, I'm just asking friends for recommendations.
Why do you think there is this disparity in health care for the uninsured?
It's disconcerting that hospitals charge self-paying patients differently from those with insurance. It proves that prices are arbitrary and severely inflated. I have no problem with paying people for helping me. While I think a doctor charging my year's wages for 6.5 hours of work is an outrage, I must be grateful for the man who fixed my face. It's just a real shame that the whole system has become filled with so much absurdity and unfairness that someone like myself can't stumble by accident and then properly pay a reasonable price for the efforts of those who helped restore them to health.
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