Friday, January 11, 2008

Fargo Health Care: When health care becomes a lifelong expense


Author: Karson Keely


Fargo, ND - The percentage of people with health insurance through their employers — traditionally the way most people get coverage — is continuing to shrink, raising anxiety among workers and invigorating a debate about whether insurance should be tied to jobs.

Many of those who get their coverage through their jobs are becoming less secure that those benefits will always be there.
The debate about fundamental changes in health insurance comes as a declining percentage of employers are offering coverage. That’s fueling concern among consumers and employees such as Angela Reece who says the system isn’t “patient-friendly” and is slowly becoming one of the rising numbers of people — particularly those with health problems — struggling to get or utilize insurance.

Angela recently suffered a mild heart attack after attending her daughter’s choir concert on December 11, 2007. Angela walked her parents to their car, picked up her two children from the front of Carl Ben and drove home. The thirty-six-year-old recalls feeling “stressed out” after leaving work that day, but nothing that she felt was too serious. After arriving home, Angela felt a deep pain like she had never felt before.

“It felt like an elephant was stepping on my chest and a vice grip was tightening on my head.”

Her children dialed 9-11 and help arrived. At this point in the article it is important to understand Angela’s medical history in order to understand her state of mind.

In the past 13 years, Angela has had her gall-bladder and cervix cancer cells removed, a biopsy for breast cancer, delivered two children via C-section and has been diagnosed with high blood pressure, thus dealing with the snowballing ailments, prescriptions and costs pertaining to having high blood pressure. Angela also had to be treated for severe carpel tunnel which required over a year of medical treatment. She was granted only partial coverage because her employer stated clerical duties were not in the job description. Her job at that time was a director for a local non-profit.

Over the course of 13 years, Angela has racked up quite a bit of hospital bills – and has dealt with quite a few insurance, hospital and collection representatives. This would explain her unusual behavior the night she suffered a heart attack.

When help arrived they recommended she be rushed to the hospital. Angela began to cry. Her tears were followed with pleas for alternative transportation to the hospital. Angela said her only thought was how much the ambulance ride was going to cost. Angela then disclosed to The Business Journal that she has been paying between $50 and $250-per-month towards her medical bills for the past 13 years – in addition she has received a little over $50,000 from her parents in medical financial assistance.

Eventually Angela “came to her senses” and was loaded into the ambulance and taken to the hospital.

Angela was right about one thing – it was going to cost her. The bill arrived two days after the night of her ride, $641 out of pocket and $900 total bill. She was even charged for three separate failed IV attempts.

“They tried three times to get the IV in and failed, yet I was billed three separate IV charges.” Angela said.

When the ambulance pulled into MeritCare, Angela said she couldn’t believe it because her “provider is at Dakota Clinic/Innovis.” The dollar signs kept tallying higher and higher in her head.

The next morning, the doctor said he wanted to keep her for a couple of days and Angela broke down into tears again. She had officially given up trying to get out of medical debt. She knew she would be paying at least $250 dollars on top of her $500 monthly co-pay for the rest of her life. Angela pays $500 a month for health insurance which is an 80/20 plan with Blue Cross Blue Shield ND.





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