The View From Your Sickbed

A reader writes:

Maybe about two years ago, I was visiting my girlfriend in another part of the state. Our time together those days was precious since we lived hours away from each other, so it wasn't uncommon for us to be up late at night into the early morning hours. At about 2 a.m. one particular night, she begun to feel these horrible, stinging pains in her lower abdomen. At first we thought - hoped - it was pronounced indigestion or even food poisoning and nothing serious, like appendicitis. She took some painkillers, but the pain persisted for about an hour, to the point where it was so intense that she was vomiting. I said, "The hell with it, we're going to the emergency room."

It didn't take long for the ER to check her in, which was a relief. Once she was admitted, they ran the usual gamut of tests: blood, pregnancy, etc. A doctor came to see her a couple times before he decided she should get some kind of scan, I believe an MRI, but I can't really remember. Anyway, cutting to the chase, it turned out a cyst on one of her ovaries had burst. It was nothing unusual, and the doctor prescribed some stronger painkillers while referring her to a local gyencologist. We were out of there by 10 a.m. and we were beyond relieved: No surgery, no extended time in the hospital. The real trouble would come a few weeks later, when my girlfriend got her bill: $10,000.

At the time my girlfriend was attending college full time and was working part-time at a retail chain store that didn't offer any health coverage to part-timers. The college offered some coverage, which she had, but it only covered about $800 of the total cost for the visit, tests, etc.. She couldn't afford private insurance, and she was too old to be on her parents' policies. So she had a choice: Borrow the money somehow, probably through a bank since nobody in her family had that kind of money lying around, or apply for charity care through the state of New Jersey, which was a no-brainer. Eventually, she was approved for the charity care, which paid the whole bill. So taxpayers were left shouldering the costs anyway.

If only my girlfriend's employer had to provide coverage. If only that coverage were subsidized and available through an insurance exchange that included a public plan. If only there were better cost controls. If only people in much worse financial and health situations than my girlfriend's had access to these things, too. If only.