Sunday, August 12, 2007


So, I've just returned from seeing Michael Moore's "Sicko."

Yeah, yeah. Everyone loves to hate him. Yeah yeah, he misrepresents. I know. Thank God for the Michael Moores out there, who call it like they see it, who aren't afraid of being accused of pandering. Yeah, a boatload of sick people taken to Cuba is a publicity stunt. But damn, it got them health care. I'd go too if I needed to. Besides, what is flying a fighter jet in front of a banner saying "Mission Accomplished" if not pandering at its best/worst?

50 million Americans are uninsured. 250 million Americans have health insurance. I, by sheer luck and a very tolerant boss, manage to keep my insurance. I'm not sure for how much longer, but for now, I can work full time.

Good thing too. My next Remicade bill is $1000. I make less than $1000 a month, people. My husband, less. We're grad students. I sat there and realized what a staggering risk I am for my husband to take on. I could financially ruin him with a bad flare, or a bad reaction to my next injection. I could drag him under. Then I realize we're both so far under from student loan debt that there's really nowhere for us to go. What's more debt at this point? $4000 for Remicade (if I were uninsured), $1000 a month for provigil. This is my life.

What shook me the most was the story of a young man with kidney cancer. All of his treatments were denied by his insurance. He died.

It reminded me of another story, of another young man living not too far away from him who also had kidney cancer at an obscenely young age. My dad was in his early 40s. His insurance also denied all the experimental chemo. So we tried other drugs, went into thousands of dollars into debt while he flew back and forth to Houston. The drug he was denied? It's now the gold standard for kidney treatment.

The bills were astronomical. We paid it anyway. When he died at 46, everything he'd work his whole life to give us was gone. His business eventually failed. His life insurance found a loophole and didn't pay. My mom eventually had to enter the workforce again at age 50, having been my father's office person for so long that she had no confidence in her ability to do anything outside of the home. In fact, work stress has contributed to her divorce from my stepdad after 6 years of marriage.

The couple in the film didn't go ahead with any treatments. The man died.

Was that better? To not finance the house, the business, to leave something for the wife and kids?

Hell no. I read somewhere , in an essay written by someone who has since died of her cancer, that children experience time differently than adults. Those years of having my dad alive -- sick, but alive -- were horrible, confusing, stressful years, but they were years where I at least had my dad in my life. My little sister only got him for 14 years and that seems like an obscenity. I barely remember being 14 at times. Those years were worth it.

Why do we live in a place where this is a choice? Why do I always feel this horrible "health insurance" monster hanging over me? It's been that way since I was 23 and no longer on my mom's insurance -- every move I make is dictated by health care. If I were not constrained by the insurance question, I have no doubt I would make more money. My skills are a bit like my dad's -- I tend to pick up a job here, a job there. A little freelancing here, tutoring there. But when I'm working 9 to 5, like now, all my energy goes to maintaining, not producing. I think that's why I wasn't a great grad assistant. I could teach. I could write. I could be a student. But I wasn't able to handle them at the schedule and pace needed to maintain insurance.

Canada is looking better and better all the time. If it weren't so damn cold....

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