Sick Inside Our Broken Health System with that Old Familiar Terror in My Gut

by Donna Smith

I stepped up to the appointment check-in desk last Thursday as I prepared to have the CT scans needed to find out what the heck is going on with my body. Many know I have been ill off and on since the day after Christmas, and I spent a week in the hospital after becoming so ill that dehydration was taking a toll on me. Doctors ordered lots of tests while I was in-patient and because the major symptoms have only been masked by meds and have not gone away, there is lingering concern about my cancer status, etc. So I needed to be re-scanned to find out what is going on before we move forward with other care or treatment.

Drinking the barium in preparation for the test was not much fun when I’ve been taking anti-nausea medication off and on for a month. And I knew they’d also be starting an IV for more contrast dye to see as much of my belly as possible. I was nervous.

The woman at the check-in desk pulled up my record and first asked for my co-pay for the test — $250, but then also asked if we wanted to make some progress on paying the now more than $2,000 I owe against my 2014 deductible and out-of-pocket costs. I was instantly transported back to the terrified and angry places I have been so many times before when seeking health care has meant choosing between taking care of my health and hurting us financially. My husband stared at me in disbelief and told the woman we would not be making payment on the $2,000. We paid the $250. As we walked back to the radiology area, I felt like leaving in shame. I was ashamed of myself for needing care, ashamed of myself for not knowing how much the co-pay for the one test would be, and mostly ashamed of myself for not being wealthy enough to just take care of myself.

My shame and terror lasted right through the time when I went in for the scan. Then I started to get angrier about the system that does this to me over and over again. We need improved and expanded Medicare for all for life — a single standard of high quality care without financial barrier — so no one ever again is more terrified and ashamed of a co-pay than he or she may be of finding cancer or some other serious illness brewing inside. I don’t want to see my husband’s angry face in a medical waiting room. I want to see him supporting me, comforting me when necessary and maintaining his own calm in the face of medical issues. This is just such an awful system. And the Affordable Care Act/Obamacare, as we all know, did not end these scenes from happening all over the country thousands of times every day.