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Day 39: 'Break a Leg' and Have Good Luck - or Not?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Just about ten years ago, in spring 2001, a friend of mine fell and broke her wrist. It wasn't an especially bad break; a relatively simple fracture, trip to the ER, x-ray, cast, appointment in a week and another in six weeks, cast off, done 'n' done. Except it wasn't quite that simple.

Denise was in her mid-forties and had been divorced for a couple years. She had no children. In the divorce she lost her medical insurance, and since she had no dependents was not entitled to any kind of 'maintenance support' or alimony. Her job - which paid far less income than the ex-husband's - had few benefits. She had tried to find a better job with a package that included medical coverage, but without success.

So now she found herself unable to work (her job was doing data entry for a bank and she couldn't type while the cast was on) and with a hefty new bill to pay: she was responsible for the entire cost of her broken wrist.

She had some income from the state's workmen's comp or disability or something. (I've been away from this for too long to remember exactly which disbursement she was entitled to.) It wasn't as much as her pittance of a salary - which in turn was nowhere near what her six-figure-per-year ex was earning - and the payments would just barely tide her over until she could go back to work and start earning her regular salary.

She tried to talk to the billing department at the hospital, to work out some kind of compromise on the bill. No dice. Finally she went in and met with someone in the 'delinquent accounts' office. They worked out a deal wherein Denise would pay $20 / month to work off the cost, with the first payment due after she was back at her job and had received her first full pay.

Now, that's not unreasonable, in one sense. She wasn't looking for a handout, and she was more than willing to pay her way. Denise was very conscientious and worked hard to clear up her debts. She was good at budgeting and watching her personal accounts, and living within her means.

The problem was the total cost of $2500.

Denise was lucky in some ways. The hospital agreed to suspend finance charges, so there was no interest or other fees accruing on the original bill - her $20 / month would be applied directly to the principal and in a little over ten years (this year, in fact) it would be paid off.

Ten years for a broken arm. She was also lucky it wasn't a complicated break and she didn't need surgery...

As it turned out Denise was able to pay it off a little earlier than that. She found a better-paying job and could pay more than the agreed $20, so she was able to chip away at it a little faster. But it still took a couple years, and it kept her from getting ahead or being able to put money into any kind of savings, as any 'spare' income went to the hospital bill.

I've long since lost touch with Denise, but her story stayed with me, because I had been in that exact same situation myself. Oh, I didn't have a broken arm, but I had no medical insurance, no coverage, and not a hope in Hades of being able to afford COBRA or any private insurance, even a very minimal, basic policy. And my income at the time was barely sufficient to keep a roof over my head and the car running - I certainly didn't have any extra to build up a 'rainy day fund' against possible future medical bills.

The reason all that came to mind today is because I had an appointment with an NHS clinician to talk to me about signing up for the Reach-for-Life program, which designs a fitness plan for people with conditions such as diabetes. As it happened, this clinician - Lorraine - was one of the moderators of the Healthy Lifestyle* course I took in late 2009 - the one that prompted me to come back to SparkPeople and get serious about becoming more healthy.

*I had referred to this class in the 'Year in the Life' blog; those of you who have been reading my recent posts know I'm just about to finish up the NHS's 'Advanced Course on Diabetes,' which I have found not very valuable. But to be fair, I believe not all classes and workshops are created equal... some presenters are more suited to teaching than others... and most of all, if there's anything positive to be found in such courses, then the time and effort is not totally wasted. Thinks me.

I perhaps have been unfair to the diabetes class I'm in and to its presenters - not that they need to know that, lol. While it's true enough that not all moderators are equal - we've all had teachers we liked and learned from better than others - I found out from Lorraine that this round is only the second time out this course has been offered in this format, and the presenters had to fill in at the last minute for someone else. I know I've said that most of the meetings seem to break up early, but now I'm wondering - is part of that due to the short notice they were given to take on the classes, and they have not had sufficient time to go through and organize them?

Be that as it may, the end result of all this is I had a moment of gratitude.

In my own divorce I ended up with the house, but it was mortgaged to the hilt. In a way, just owning it worked against me: I didn't qualify for a lot of the social services that I might have been able to collect if I hadn't 'owned property.' I used to live in fear that I would need an operation, or that I would break a bone. It was bad enough when it was time to get new glasses. And as for the dentist - for the first time in my life, I missed regular 'clean and checks,' because there was no way I could afford them.

I think I forgot to count my blessings. While I have contributed to the public coffers in the UK - I did work for several years, both at part-time and at full-time jobs - as retirees neither Himself nor I are paying taxes now. (We'd have to be pretty wealthy to be in that bracket post-retirement, lol!) These classes and meetings and exercise programs and so on are all provided through the NHS, at no additional cost to me or mine. If I had to pay for them, I would have to forego them, so I'm very fortunate to have them available. And if I needed surgery, or if I broke a bone, I'd have access to the services I'd need, without having to sacrifice everything.

That's why I thought about Denise today, and realized how lucky I am.

Arrange the following words into a well-known phrase or saying:

gift mouth a horse the never in look

Goodnight, Sparklers, wherever you are!
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
  • no profile photo CD4042155
    We have insurance ... if you want to call it that. About the only benefit is some of the prescriptions would be prohibitive without it ($40.00 a crack is bad enough). DH had a heart attack 2 years ago, we are STILL paying for what the insurance didn't cover (over $4500).

    We can't get any of the blood work that makes it easier to know what is going on in our bodies and correct as necessary. Dr. is mad we won't take the tests ($700.00 for each of us per quarter). Our combined deductibles are $4000.00. No way we can pay that much.

    So we do without.

    And yes, US system sucks and it ain't getting any better.
    3677 days ago
    We have insurance and still owe $2000 for my dh's surgery---and it was outpatient---and the hospital is being nasty---even though I told them he could not go back to work til he could use his arm again----grrrrrr-----it has really bothered me and is keeping me off track as I don't deal well with money stress. And they sent us paperwork to see if we qualified to have it written off----and we would have to be 200% below the poverty level to qualify----talk about a joke!
    3677 days ago
    I ran all the way through Cobra and then paid for my own until I became cost prohibitive. Being without for several months was a very scary time, especially at my age. I am grateful to have insurance now! The US just started allowing us to add children on our policies up to 26 years old. I added the youngest "boy" (25) and Himself added our 22 year old girl, neither of which had insurance. Glad we could do it!
    3677 days ago
    WOW I read your blog on the morning that I find out that my state provided insurance that I had while I was unemployed (and had exhausted all means of savings) is not being approved for renewal because my P/T job pays me above the poverty level. If I had a dependant child it wouldn't be an issue I could get all kinds of state provided benefits !!!! Nothing available for the single person in this state at all !!! Now while I was under the coverage I was being treated for pre-cervical cancer tissue (or whatever that's called) and now 6 months after the treatment has ended I am seeing signs of the symptons again and can not afford the $125.00 office visit to go back to the Dr. So I guess I will have to look the gift horse right in the mouth and go to the ER in the hospital I work at. What else am I to do? I already know I'm blessed and will continue to be, so I know God is with me and will guide me where I need to be.

    Thanks for listening.
    3678 days ago
    Never look a gift horse in the mouth!!

    The NHS used to be excellent - but I heard it had gone downhill recently!! It also used to be available to all - with no means test - I used it a few times when I was growing up in UK!!
    A few years ago I had cause to talk to my Aunts Doctor on a return trip top UK and she was also in hospital - things seemed fine then -- but then it was only a surface look!!
    We have a Public medical service here in Oz too - but its woefully short of money and staff!!
    3678 days ago
    I LOVE our NHS and just hope this darn government leaves it alone, they are known for trying to break it up bit by bit..it is the high end salaries they need to curb and the waste with some of the heating bills..I KNOW people in hospital can feel the cold, BUT they don't need to be raised as hot house flowers...lol
    3678 days ago
    Thank goodness I have a pretty good retirement from STRS (Ohio State Teacher Retirement System). Although I worked through college and often held a second job when I started teaching, I'm not eligible for Social Security here in the states due to being a retired teacher.
    I had to laugh when I went to my new eye specialist - the first thing the receptionist asked was not for my name or if I had an appointment - rather what insurance coverage did I have. Then, they called yesterday to tell me my deductible for the surgery will be $200 and to be sure to pay it on my pre-surgery visit on Monday. Oh, well - I'm better off than most because I can afford to take care of my health now.
    Who knows what the future will bring.
    3678 days ago
  • REJ7777
    I'm glad things are working out for you!
    3678 days ago
    Great blog Kasey. The state of healthcare in the US currently is appalling but finding solutions is a political hot potato. I am one of the lucky ones with a job that provides healthcare. My mother was chronically ill all her life and my father was unable to retire until she passed away for fear she would outlive his cobra insurance and he would be unable to get healthcare.
    3678 days ago
    In the US we have a lot of people like Denise or worse...it is sad to think of it, since we live in one of the richest countries. Hopefully, our country can get it's act together...and soon.

    Disability is another joke. Once my DH had surgery and he was out of work over 8 weeks. He got his first check the week he returned to work! Thank goodness his company floated him the money until he got his check...we had two very young children at home, at that time, and I wasn't working. Like you said, the amount is only a percentage of your earnings. You can't afford to be on disability...

    *Never look a gift horse in the mouth*...although your class was not as you had hoped, at least it was available to you, along with your other health perks. Your gratitude is refreshing...so many take things for granted.
    3678 days ago
    I have several friends who have lost their jobs, Cobra has run out and they are stuck and scared out of their minds that something will happen to them to wipe them out completely...the health care system in the US sucks!
    3679 days ago
    I empathize with Denise, you, me and other women who find themselves without enough income to afford basics. During the years I was without insurance I did my best to protect against illness, colds, etc., JUST BECAUSE of the problem of paying the bills. SparkPeople's encouragement to lay off the sugar and salt goes a long way to providing protection of one's health. (It wouldn't have helped Denise because she had an ACCIDENT.) Americans wouldn't be so sick if we would just apply SP rules for a healthy lifestyle. But no, we sit as sloths on the couch day in and day out, watch TV and eat ourselves numb.

    I encourage as many of my friends to join SP too. They don't like being obese, but until they make a decision to change, no change IS a decision!

    Thanks for the very caring true story!
    3679 days ago
  • no profile photo THIAGRAM
    It's certainly wonderful to be able to count the blessings!

    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    3679 days ago
    Wow Kasey----- I guess the UK is somewhat like Canada eh??--- We never worry about health insurance as everything is covered---We are so fortunate as are you guys!----and isn't it--""Never look a gift horse in the mouth""?---Good expression! emoticon
    3679 days ago
  • no profile photo CD4061285
    Don't even get me started on the state of the health care system in the United States. Nice blog though.
    3679 days ago
    You are so lucky to live in a country with NHS, not-so-valuable class and all! Definitely something to be grateful for. I can only hope that one day America figures it out so we don't continue to have so many Denise - and sadder - stories.
    3679 days ago
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