A reader writes:
On Christmas Day in 1994 my mother was rushed to a hospital near death. An infected sore (which she had gone to the doctor about and been taking the strong prescribed antibiotics for) had spread into the "flesh-eating" disease. Two months and eight surgeries later she was sent home with a total of $250,000 in medical expenses. My parents thought they were covered, but discovered my father's company wasn't paying their portion. Suing wasn't an option as the small business owner went bankrupt soon after. They gave her 8-10 years to live after such an experience. She was left unable to work, but had too much money in her name for disability (a house and a car and some farmland in another state). Few insurance companies would touch her, and the ones that would wanted THOUSANDS a month and made sure we knew that pretty much any "complication" wouldn't be covered due to "pre-existing conditions."
To complicate matters, she is both obese and diabetic. Still, we made it work. We didn't get insurance...why bother if anything that happened to her wouldn't be covered. My parents were fortunate in that this happened after they had paid off the house and raised three girls to adulthood. Fast forward to 2007. Mom is still alive but picks up a day of flu-like symptoms that don't go away after a day like usual. Of special concern, constant vomiting. Off to the ER. The ER doctor informed us that she would need to be admitted until the fever was gone, her blood sugars were good, and she went 24 hours without vomiting. He also noticed an abdominal hernia. Next morning (less than 24 hours later and after they discovered she wasn't insured) her fever was gone, blood sugars normal, and she hadn't thrown up since being admitted. She was sent home by the floor doc even as I protested. As soon as I got her home, she threw up all over herself. Back to the ER. An even longer wait for a room. Hernia ignored. Two weeks of tests for everything they could come up with. All required that she not eat or drink (even water or ice chips) and the vomitting continued. Some of the tests they didn't even run because they discovered AFTER scheduling it that the exam table wouldn't support her weight. We still got charged a fee for being on the schedule.
Finally they decided it must be the hernia and scheduled the surgery. The surgery went well, but in the day after rebounding from the anethesia, she suffered a stroke...signs were there that I alerted staff too, but on a floor with one nurse for 10-15 patients and a call to the doc easily a half-hour wait...the damage was done (I am shocked no one has mentioned the typical 30-90 minute waits on a hospital floor to be cleaned of solied linens, address alarms, etc). To this day I think two weeks of no food or water contributed to the stroke. They did a second procedure to "find the cause"...95% blockage in both neck vessels, then pressured us hourly to find a nursing home to dump her into. No physical therapy. That would be the nursing home's problem. She sat in a near vegetative state for a week. Only one nursing home in the area would take her. They charged $10,000 a month for minimal care. Even with private pay, physical therapy is DONE with you after 90 days. We tolerated 7 months, punctuated by a two-week hospital stay due to a bladder & urine infection (the nursing home's keeping her on a catheter was cheaper than supplying diapers...the state stepped in and fixed that) while finding a way to get her home. We used home health care for a while, but that's $20 an hour!
My sister took a leave of absence and takes care of her during the day. I see to her at night. The hospital bill for their two weeks of delaying something the ER doc noticed right away...$60,000 (add that same amount in all the other bills of doc fees, x-rays, tests, meds, etc). Again, we've managed to make due at great sacrifice (we are all collectively using our disposable incomes) while the hospital happily turned over our bill to a collection agency AFTER I made arrangements for a monthly payment. Now every few moths it gets sold to a different collection agency and I get to inform the new one what has already been arranged. I'll admit I'm not a big fan of what Obama has laid out, but I also know the current system is broken.