For those of us who have had the benefit of health insurance for a while, the actual costs hospitals charge patients is startling. I know because I had a wreck on my bike back at the end of July when we didn’t have health insurance.
I used to be quite a spokehead and am very proud of my riding history. I was a serious 50-mile-a-day rider back in my 20s. I never had aspirations of professional cycling. It just never occurred to me. I had my own pace and it wasn’t what could ever qualify as a racing speed. I just liked cycling. There was that point in the physical aspect of cycling when I could have a conversation moving at 20-miles-an-hour. It might grow a little breathless up a big hill, but there was a sort of something quite satisfying about being able to cycle where I wanted, when I wanted. No hill was too big, no stretch too long.
Since that time, I have been on and off the bike. I have gone through phases where I’d get serious and achieve that 100- to 150-mile-a-week mark. Then, something in life would come up. Cycling would drop off and then I’d find myself looking longingly at the bike hanging in the basement.
My bike is fantastic, a sort of Frankenstein of top-drawer parts. The frame is a Miyata CT-3000, probably from about 1991 or 1992. It’s a brilliant piece of work, carbon-fiber with chromoly dropouts and lugs. The drive train is Campanolo Record, about the best you could buy in the mid-1990s. The pedals are sweet Look clip-ons. The brakes are Modolo Speedys and the front and rear derailleurs are Shimano 600–again, the best you could buy of that brand at the time. Cinelli fork, handlebars, and seat post finish out the ensemble.
All this doesn’t mean much to the regular, running-around guy. But believe me when I say it’s a real dream of a bike, weighing in around 18 pounds or a little less. To buy a comparable bike these days would run a guy in the range of $1,800-$2,000. At the time I bought the bike, however, I think I paid about $120 to replace a wrecked Batavus frame. It helps to know guys in the bike business.
So, this summer, I got sick of looking at my ride gathering webs and dust in the basement. I went out and bought new cleats for my cycling shoes and oiled up the chain. I noticed that the front chain wheel is a little worn and I’ll have to replace it within another 1,000 miles. I also bought a battery for the Avocet 40 cyclometer, an artifact of the 1990s when the company made fine, cost-worthy products. To my surprise, a new battery fired the cyclometer right up. All I needed to do was calibrate it to my 700 x 23 wheels and tires.
I took off on the bike and had a handful of great rides. I ventured further and further from home, until one day, I hit the bridge expansion joint at 6th and Wyandotte. The bump bounced the handlebars out of my hands. I spent several tens of feet trying to grasp them again when the bike went one way and I went the other. I landed full-force on my head and shoulder. My only thought as I was going down was, shit, we don’t have health insurance.
(Fortunately, I was wearing a helmet. It saved my noggin. It was crushed on the side where my head drove into the pavement. It’s history. I should have saved it to show everyone I see that cycles without a helmet.)
I hit the pavement with such force that I broke a rib and suffered what seems now to be permanent rotator cuff tears. I had a few scrapes, just enough to make things colorful. Virginia convinced me I needed to go to the hospital. I demurred, saying, we ought to have health insurance before we go to any hospital emergency department. But she insisted. They told me essentially what I already knew. There’s nothing you can do for a broken rib except let it heal. The rotator cuff issues will have to wait another while.
We were without insurance because Virginia had lost her job. The corporation didn’t get with us about COBRA coverage until well into September. We had to backpay three months to get coverage for the time we were without insurance. This is going to save our asses.
Meanwhile, the hospital started sending bills: ER visit, $7,400; doctor, $1,500; radiologist, $400. That’s $9,300 before we get the bill for the x-rays (six). In the end, the bike wreck is going to cost $10,000
$7,400 just to walk into the place. Like I said, when I had the wreck, I knew we weren’t covered and wasn’t sure we’d get covered. When we finally received the COBRA paperwork and saw that it would cost us nearly $5,000 for three months’ worth of coverage, I toyed with the idea that maybe we skip the insurance and just pay out-of-pocket. That was a good idea, it seemed to me, until we received the bill for the ER. Then, it was a simple calculation: We pay $5,000 to save $5,000.
The bills didn’t stun me so much as make me sad. I’m jaded at this point about American healthcare. In fact, I despair about the entire medical care scheme. We don’t have a system but a patchwork of corporate shams that drain the regular person of what hope they have of ever achieving anything above what they have in life. Had we not had access to insurance, had we not had the money to get into COBRA coverage, we would be in debt for the next several years. I feel for all those people out there who don’t have enough insurance and those who don’t have any.
About 10 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t have insurance at this time. Another 30 percent are underinsured. I cannot find the number of people who have unmanageable deductibles and outrageous out-of-pocket costs. The number, I’m sure, is staggering.
I’ve heard Republicans, mostly, complain that if everyone was covered under Medicare, the taxes would be outrageous. But right now, we stand to spend over $18,000 a year on health insurance under Virginia’s new plan. Wouldn’t I love to spend another $5,000 a year for Medicare. We’d save thousands. We could walk into an ER and not have to worry about some shady corporation fleecing us for their profit.
I think that most Americans want decent health care and wouldn’t mind paying the bill for coverage. I know I do. I understand that nothing comes for free, but when you consider that about 18 percent of the GDP goes into healthcare, you’ve got to wonder. Do we keep doing what we’re doing? Putting people in deep debt so that shareholders can walk away with good returns on their investment portfolios.
And these Republican moan about Obamacare. I hope their actions come back to bite them in the ass.
In the meantime, I’m getting back on the bike. I have some trepidation. What if I fall over again? What will happen to the shoulder this time? What if I break another rib or my neck this time?
What I do know is that I’m fat, out of shape, and anxious to put my body to work. I risk having heart attacks, diabetes, and strokes if I keep doing what I’m doing. The bike is a good bet, as long as I keep myself off the pavement.