I am not a leper – I’m just not rich

Not that I have anything against lepers. But after today – I know exactly how you all feel when we treat you like, well, like lepers. And I’m sorry.

Let me start at the beginning. Michener style.

I’ve always thought of myself as middle class. I own my own home. My children eat home cooked meals made from fresh fruit, veggies and quality meat. They have more clothes than they can wear in a week, even changing outfits twice a day. Sure, I drive a POS car that’s older than my marriage, but that’s a choice. New cars are simply not a priority.

Oh, and I don’t have health insurance.

I did once. I had a soul sucking corporate jobby-job that gave my whole family insurance coverage.

Then I got laid off. And our insurance disappeared. Just like that.

Now, My husband and I are insuranceless. But my kids are covered.

By the state.

Yeah,Β  we’re “those people”.

My husband and I both own our own successful, small businesses. We looked into getting health insurance. For us to pay for our own insurance it would cost $500 a month. Per person. Kids too. So… That means my whole paycheck, on a steady month would go to our family’s insurance. Oh, and that’s with a $10,000 deductible. Yeah, you read that right.

So, $2,000 a month and it won’t cover anything except hugely expensive emergencies. $2,000 a month and it will just barely keep us out of bankruptcy if something really terrible and god-awful happens. That’s not insurance. That’s robbery.

We sat down, we did the math. We’re good at math. We read the rules of medical care in America. Technically they’re not allow to refuse you. Hippocratic oath and all. They have to put you on a payment plan.

Still, we’re not the types to take chances with our kids. So we looked into making sure they were covered. Turns out, I’m not middle class. I’m poor. Shit poor. Not poor enough for the state to cover my insurance, but poor enough for the state to look after my kids. As long as I’m willing to pitch in here and there.

So, we signed the kids up for state insurance. We got them a primary care physician, and we stopped worrying about it. We’re not really doctor types anyway. We only go when it’s time for a check up or a genuine emergency. We’re not on drugs (pharmaceuticals), we’re not sick and we don’t really like doctors. (Nurses, yes and PAs, absolutely. But doctors, please. Can we surgically remove the ego? Then we might have something to work with.)

Fast forward.

This morning my daughter woke up and said her ear stung. On the outside.

I took a look and sure enough the top of her ear was bright red and irritated. It looked like she had slept on it wrong. I told her not to worry, that it would be fine by lunch time.

Today, when she came home from school at three, it wasn’t fine. It was worse. Much worse.

It was still red. It was very swollen. And there were strange, blotchy, discolored blisters all over the top curve of her ear.

My first thought was fungus. My second thought was, how does fungus grow that fast, there? So, I took a cotton swab to it. I’m actually a very calm parent. Nothing came off on the swab. I took a sniff, no odor.

Not fungus.

So, I asked The Google.

I had two choices. Horrible virus that’s insanely contagious and needs to be treated topically to reduce the symptoms and the contagious factor, or… even worse bacteria that needs to be treated yesterday.

Well, fuck.

So, I call my PCP (Primary care physician) who closes in an hour and can’t fit my kid in today. But don’t worry, just go to Urgent Care, they’ll take care of you.

I look up Longmont Urgent Care on The Google, write down the address and throw my kids into the car.

Five minutes later we walk into the Longmont Clinic urgent care and I start to check in. The man at the desk smiles at me and lets me know it’s about a two-hour wait. I smile and nod. It’s always a wait at urgent care. Then he starts asking the standard check in questions. I can’t fill out the form and respond at the same so I hand him my daughter’s state insurance card. “Here, this should have all the information you need.”

“Oh, we don’t take this. We’re a private hospital. We don’t have to treat people like you.” He gives back my insurance card, holding it by the corner as if it might be contaminated. As if I might be contagious.

People like me? What does that even mean? You don’t treat people who need medical care? You don’t treat hard-working families? You don’t treat people who pay cash?

Oh, you don’t treat people who have been laid off and run their own business because the job creators aren’t creating anything but new tax breaks for themselves. You don’t treat people who work 60 hours a week. You don’t treat people who put their families first, before new cars, before big homes, before bling, before anything.

Is that what you mean when you say you don’t treat people like me?

So who does? Because, you see, my daughter’s ear has gotten worse just in the time we’ve been talking. And I don’t know what’s wrong with her, but I know that it isn’t right, isn’t normal, isn’t healthy.

“Well there’s a place in North Longmont that sees people like you. NextCare. It’s behind the Arby’s.”

People like me, huh. I wonder what that looks like. A place that treats people like me.

So, with my sick kid getting sicker, I left. Trying not to swear too loudly.

I drove north to my neighborhood. Where people like me live.

And I went to NextCare. I was still fuming when we walked in. I was furious. I was scared. I had a sick kid and I was afraid these people were going to turn us away too.

I said I needed to check my daughter in for urgent care. The woman being the counter smiled and asked for my insurance card and ID. I handed them over. “I’m not sure you’ll take this, no one else seems to.”

“Don’t worry, we do.” She said with a smile, before she had even looked.

She continued to treat me like a human being, worthy of dignity and respect throughout my stay in the waiting room. Which was only 5 minutes.

Yeah, Longmont hospital was going to make me wait 2 hours and then turn me away or charge me hundreds of dollars in cash to see my daughter. These people, they took my insurance AND saw my daughter in 5 minutes.

The nurse was both professional and kind. The PA (Physician’s Assistant) who saw, diagnosed and treated my daughter was equally professional and equally kind. She talked directly to my daughter as if she too was a real human worthy of respect. She asked questions, took notes and finally popped one of my daughter’s blisters. Thick yellow pus oozed out.

“That’s not good.”

Not something you ever want to hear your doctor say.

“So, this morning this was just red?”

“Yeah, and she said it stung.”

“This is a serious bacterial infection. For it to get this bad, this fast… I’m going to put her on some oral antibiotics.”

She said it calmly, but I could sense the seriousness, the gravity, in her voice.

We talked a little more and she gave me three warning signs to watch out for. If any of them happen I need to take my daughter directly to ER.

Yes, this is that serious and it arrived out of the fucking blue. And Longmont Clinic (A branch of Longmont United Hospital) turned us away. Because they don’t treat people like me, like us.

But NextCare took me in and treated us like humans. Like we were anyone else. Like we mattered. Like they cared.

I’m almost done with my rant. Almost. But I promised a couple of women that I would mention them here.

The pharmacists at the Longmont King Soopers.Thank you again ladies. You turned my nightmare afternoon into an okay night.

When I went to King Soopers on Main Street they told me that what the doc. at NextCare had prescribed didn’t exist. So, they called and clarified. Then they searched their shelves, realized they didn’t have enough of the prescribed drug in stock and called over to the other Longmont King Soopers on Hover. The woman asked them to rush my order, let them know I was on my way and that I would be there in minutes.

When I arrived they were nearly done filling my script. “Let me just run your insurance. This is really expensive stuff.” The woman said.

“Well, hopefully it’s covered, but if not, I’ll bite the bullet. Kid needs this.”

They didn’t laugh, scowl or look down their nose when I handed over my daughter’s state insurance card. They just ran it like any other insurance and said, “Yep, you’re covered. Give us one more minute.”

When I went to pick up the script the woman let me know that it tasted terrible. “Here’s a trick. Give your daughter a teaspoon of chocolate syrup. It’ll coat her tongue and she won’t be able to taste this.”

We talked a little, laughed a little, I told them about Longmont Hospital and about NextCare and told them, “If you ever meet someone else like me who needs care, tell them to skip Longmont Clinic and go straight to NextCare. They’ll be treated promptly, and with respect.”

I walked away feeling like a good parent, a good citizen, a good person again. My humanity had been renewed.

So, thank you NextCare. And thank you King Soopers pharmacists. You’ve won my business and my loyalty.

Longmont hospital on the other hand… Trust me, if I can make it anywhere else without dying, I’ll go. You’ll never get a dime of my money.

Not even when I’m rich and I can afford insurance.



Filed under Kids, Of Course I'm a Feminist, Rant

29 responses to “I am not a leper – I’m just not rich

  1. I hope your daughter gets better really soon without any of the bad warning signs as they should be going straight to the Longmont staff!

    I will never complain about our health system here in New Zealand again. The thought of that much stress and drama for a human right seems like a violation of your rights as a person in a developed country.

    Wishing you the very best.

  2. I am in the same boat as you. I feel rich I life. A great husband two beautiful healthy kids and NO money :). I am on the state insurance too and thank goodness have been treated with respect every time but I do admit I felt a bit odd giving my card the first Time. I was expecting a “look”. I’m glad you finally got seen and that she is going to be okay.

  3. Wow. I am speechless, except to say I’m glad you got care, and I hope your excellent “rant” goes viral! And I love you!!

    • Thanks Victoria! The rant seems to be spreading quite well. But this is health care in America. I really don’t think enough people know what it’s like for people earning under $100,000 a year, or who don’t have corporate jobs with insurance.

  4. merannicuill

    You’re an awesome writer; you’re clear, I KNOW the emotions you’re experiencing, and I’m immediately pulled into your, unfortunately, very real story.

    I’m going to be sharing your blog around. I don’t know if anyone else will join, but I think intelligent, well spoken people should be shared.

    Thank you for all your thoughts, whether rants or observations of life happenings.

    (and if you think Longmont Hospital is bad, don’t ever move to Portland, Oregon. I’m SO regretting our move here in 2004…. Yes, from Colorado.)

    • Meran,
      Thanks you for your comments, and thanks for sharing me around. I think this is a really important topic that gets politicized too often. People forget that we’re talking about real people, real humans, real kids. And that we’re not talking about lazy people living off the state. I work my a$$ off every day. I pay my way. But yeah, every now and again, I need a little help. Don’t we all?

  5. Tasha

    Hey Bree! I can’t believe you experienced that, unbelievably horrible! I think you need to send that to all the local papers to print! And that guy needs to be fired! No one should ever be treated that way. And you’re absolutely right on health care reform. When David lost his job in January, I was trying to set up an appointment for Lily for a check up on her hip dysplasia, per doctor’s orders, at Children’s. I was denied even scheduling an appointment because they couldn’t verify our insurance. It’s truly insane, health care should be for everyone, not just the corporate employed or rich! I sure hope Cody or AJ gets better soon! Love you!

    • Tasha,
      Thanks so much. I can’t believe Children’s denied you an appointment – I thought that went against EVERYTHING Children’s stood for. At least if you watch their ads. Christ, that’s awful.
      And yes, we should all be able to receive the health care we need. Put me on a damn payment plan if you don’t take my insurance, but treat me with respect and dignity.
      We’re all in this boat together.
      And yes – Cody is doing much better this morning. I can touch her ear without her crying and the blisters are fading. The infection has been contained, so no trips to ER this week! Phew!

  6. Cheryl Miller Thurston

    Wow. Just wow. So glad you got help.

  7. helen colella

    Healing is good!
    Shame on those who mistreated you/daughter.
    Blessings to you and family.

    • You’re absolutely right, healing is good. It’s a shame that American health care doesn’t put much value in healing or wellness in general. It’s more about tests, drugs and profits.
      But I do believe we, the people, can change that. One voice, one choice at a time.

  8. I have been in your exact same situation. Lost corporate job, lost insurance. Have great husband, great kids and a new great job with no benefits (and when I say great, I mean it; I work for my Mom!). By the way, did I mention my husband lost his job when I did? We have finally recovered from some pretty scary years and have found Kaiser to be an ok solution to our insurance issues. Our son has ADHD and trust me when I tell you how expensive those meds are! Just an FYI if you ever decide you need extra health care check out their rates…not too bad.

    I hope you child is feeling better. Nextcare was our Dr. when we lived in Longmont, too! Really nice folks!

    It would be fabulous if you could share your blog with the administrators of the Longmont Hospital….or better yet, how about the Longmont newspaper? Hehehe (evil snicker)!
    Kris πŸ™‚

    • Kris,
      Thanks, Kaiser is actually one of the choices I had for a PCP when I got my kids on state medical. I’d heard some bad stories about them from friends and family though so chose the open choice plan, not realizing that open choice meant no choice, no care because hospitals and doctors are not required to accept government insurance. So here in Longmont there is only one clinic that does accept it, and they are packed and have a month long wait list for an appointment. Not so ideal in an urgent or emergency situation.
      Even if individual doctors/groups are allowed to refuse government insurance it seems that in order to call yourself a hospital, urgent care or emergency care you should be required to see anyone who has an urgent or emergency medical need.
      It’s a travesty that they are allowed to actually turn people away.
      Oh, and yes, as soon as I am calm enough to edit out all the curse words this will be going to the news paper, radio, tv and to the hospital administrators. I’m not so much of a quiet person when I get my feathers ruffled.

  9. Jeez, Bree, what a vile, horrible experience. So glad you found the people who do care. And so very, very glad the little one is better.

  10. Bree, I feel your pain in this well-expressed post. Thank you for sharing this experience. The base problem is our health care system. (After age 50 it gets much worse. We had our premiums doubled and then doubled again the next year although we didn’t require Rx or have ongoing health problems.) The recent changes in health care reform are helpful, but we have a long way to go. Single-payer insurance is the most reasonable and cost-efficient answer. Now, we have companies that produce NOTHING, are gatekeepers to our care, and are designed to return the highest profit to investors… that’s sick! Why should our employers, (if we have one), be involved in our health care? This adds to an employers’ cost of business and complicates their mission. It’s an old, and long-outdated business model. We can do better, and receive fairly compensated care from providers who are now exploited by insurance companies. On the topic of insurance paperwork…

    • I agree. I’ve lived a few different places around the world, and I have to say access to health care is the worst here.
      In Europe – the government pays for all the basic services. People who want better than basic can pay for private insurance and private care. I’m down with that.
      In Asia – there’s no insurance, because you can get airlifted out of Cambodia, be flown to Bangkok and have your entire wrist surgically reconstructed for $2,000, while staying in a private suite and eating 5 star food. (Note, to the folk making $1 a day, that’s still a lot, but that’s the top tier hospital and rock star treatment. You can also go down the road and have your wrist patched up adequately for $5.)
      I would happily take either of those over what we have here – outrageous costs, outrageous premiums that don’t cover anything you would ever actually need, and lackluster care from physicians who are in in for the money, not the people they serve.

  11. This made my blood boil. I’m someone in the same position, with the same basic insurance arrangement; myself and my kids (both now in their early 290s, but still on my insurance) have never been treated so abysmally, but I’ve alway known we’re only a bacterial infection away from your experience. I’m so glad your daughter’s better, and that there is a compassionate care center where you could take her. I hope you sent a copy of your essay to the hospital that turned you away. They deserve to be publicly shamed.

    • Thanks. I’m writing a more diplomatic (f-bomb free) version to send around, but I had to write this to discharge my anger and disappointment, as well as to celebrate the people at NextCare and at King Soopers pharmacy who come through for me and my family. It’s nice to know there is a place we can go to get quality care, but I do believe that everyone should be able to expect that when they walk into a hospital or clinic, no matter their status.
      I’m also a little appalled that government insurance isn’t treated the same as private insurance. I’d love to see that change.

  12. Diane Mott Davidson

    Hi Bree, First, I am very sorry for your experience. Yes, the local papers need to know your story, WITH NAMES. Sometimes the only way to bring about change is to let the press shine its light on the horrendous treatment people–especially sick children–receive in the meat grinder of today’s “health care” system.
    I would also suggest you join “Angie’s List” and give a full report on your experience of Longmont Hospital. People read Angie’s List, especially the reports on doctors and clinics.
    Whoever said things get worse as you age was right. My husband and I pay FIFTY THOUSAND DOLLARS A YEAR for health care (insurance premiums, paying the one doctor who doesn’t take insurance, Rx costs, co-pays, etc., etc.). This is ridiculous. I MUST keep working until I’m 65, in order to afford medical care.
    I have seen people turned away from our “Immediate Care Clinic” in Sarasota, Florida. They did not have the right insurance, or any insurance. It was painful.
    We NEED a single-payer system. My father was career Navy. Growing up, our family never endured medical care costs. My husband was in the Navy the first seven years we were married, and the Navy covered all medical costs. If the Armed Forces can operate very well sending students through medical school in exchange for a few years’ service, isn’t that a more workable system than our present one?
    WE NEED TO GET RID OF THE INSURANCE COMPANIES! They laugh themselves silly putting PROFITS before PEOPLE.
    I do hope Cody is better. Please keep us updated on her and your status. And if anyone is still reading this, please THROW OUT ALL REPUBLICANS! They are the ones being supported by the profit-not-people insurance companies.

    • Thanks for the support. Girl is healthy now. Anger has been discharged. Still working on a write up. I did contact the Longmont Clinic. Didn’t get the response I was looking for. Alas.
      Not sure what I was looking for though, other than an apology and some indication that they would train their staff to treat all people with respect and offer them alternative payment options if their insurance is not accepted.
      It seems simple, but apparently what “they” say is true – common sense is not so common.

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  14. Yes, I’m behind on reading my emails πŸ˜€

    However, though he’s a bit far for you (he was for me and I lived in almost Broomfield, but the doc was a man long before he decided to become a doctor and he listens and he’s smart and he tries everything .. no giving up for him) Anyway, he’s in Denver (a little north and west I think).. His name Dr Zachary Shpall… I miss him! We’ve been in Oregon for 9 yrs now, and I really haven’t found a replacement for him, even yet.

    I don’t think he’d be one to turn you away because of which insurance card you held. He was a guy to try to make things work.

    I hope all turn out well after all with your child!

    (oh, and how will things change for you with Obamacare? Better I hope!)
    (I’ll keep trying to read up on your blog; maybe you’ve already tackled that subject!)

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