February 8, 2009

This past week, a friend in London was complaining about the weather. I told her London may be covered in snow but at least if she slips on the ice, her broken leg will be treated for free. Not so in America.

The other day I spent three hours on the phone and, this may come as a surprise to some people, I didn't enjoy it. Why? Because I was trying to sort out my health insurance. It left me feeling so exasperated that now I almost hope I get hit by a bus and rushed to hospital - just so I know I'm getting my money's worth.

Last month my friend Emily's insurance was canceled. She found out when she went to the pharmacist who said her prescription wasn't authorised by her insurer.

"They don't handle individuals anymore," she said. As of January 1st they are only handling group plans. She picked up her medicine and had to pay $300 for it. Now she has to go on anti-anxiety pills because she's so stressed about paying for the anti-depressants.

Another friend is angry about the cost of her birth control. "Like I even WANT to have sex now," she snapped. "It better be good."

The pill costs $250 a month, which raises the question of who can afford to have sex? With the cost of birth control and waxing, a boyfriend is a luxury item.

I suppose if I can hold out a few years, I'll be too old to get pregnant. That's the good news.

Health care in America is such a mess. You need a degree to wade through it. After months of examining different plans and affordable options, sifting through definitions of co-pays and deductibles, figuring out the difference between HMO's and PPO's, I signed up with a plan and paid extra for dentistry.

In no time at all I developed a toothache and discovered there is something in the small print of my policy called a deferral. I was told I have to wait a year before any major dental work is covered.

At first I thought this meant I would need to wait a year before my claim could be re-imbursed. But no, I had to wait a year before getting the actual work done.

I can get a root canal done - in January 2010. It's gotten so absurd that those of us who have complaints about health coverage consider ourselves lucky - we can afford to complain.

The other day I was speaking to a man who is getting divorced. When I asked what he'll miss most about his wife he said, "her health insurance package."

Another thing. Hypochondriacs like me are a dying breed. I used to be able to see a chiropractor twice a month not to mention specialists ranging from gastroenterologists to endocrinologists. But I've had to change my ways.

Now, a visit to the GP is like a weekend in Paris. And I'll use any opportunity to chat up a dentist. Which isn't easy. I was seated next to a dentist on the plane and I kept opening my mouth very wide while we were talking, thinking it was a good opportunity for a free check-up. It didn't work. He thought I was yawning and suggested I get some sleep. After that I tried smiling a lot. But he just assumed I was being friendly. He had no idea how unnatural that is for me. It used muscles I didn't know I had.

I decided to change my policy. After nearly an hour waiting on hold, the customer service lady from my health care provider asked, "Are you a dependant?" There was a pause. "In what sense?" She explained the coverage would cost less if I was married.

"Nope," I said, "Just me." I told her I was dependant on people in other ways and reeled off a list of emotional hang-ups - but she told me none of that mattered. The one area of life I discover where being dependant actually pays off, and I don't qualify.