Monday, July 20, 2009

Eric in Bedford, Pennsylvania

Eric in Bedford, Pennsylvania
Originally uploaded by walk4healthcare

I met with Eric in Jim’s living room (at the home where I stayed that night). Jim had invited several neighbors to stop by for a discussion of healthcare reform and Eric was gracious enough to share his story with me.

First, he does not have health insurance. He looked into it, reviewed the policies from three companies and saw that there was essentially no difference among them. “It was 80/20 coverage and no doctors were covered,” he told me. The premiums started off at $300 a month and went up to $900 a month within a year. “Worse than the cable company!” And so he dropped the coverage.

As it turns out, Eric did have a serious health issue last year—a pituitary adenoma (a form of benign, but still very dangerous, brain tumor). One morning he woke up nearly blind—all he could see was a tiny pin-prick of light (an extreme form of a condition called ‘tunnel vision’). He had himself taken to the emergency room.

To make a long story short, he was treated at UPMC. He told me “Hershey refused to talk because he had no insurance.” Being without insurance, he now, after all was said and done, owed $160,000. He was able to make deals with the doctors but the hospital, he told me, “was never cooperative—a monster to deal with. And there was no negotiation.” He told me about his ongoing struggles with the hospital.

“And the billing was so strange," he added. As someone who checks things out carefully, he told me how an MRI at UPMC cost $7,000 but the same scan, on the same machine, cost $2,000 in the nearby town of Altoona. “And a single Tylenol pill cost $10! It’s a crazy system.”

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