Saturday, January 28, 2006


(to hear the radio version of this essay, click here)

I call it "the look."

It happens every time I tell the receptionist I don't have health insurance. Everyone within hearing distance turns and looks at me with a mixture of pity, contempt and fear -- like I'm going to give them bird flu or something.

I had health insurance once, thorugh my union, and I visited the doctor every year for a checkup and whenever I got sick -- just like a normal person.

I laughed aloud when I learned that my co- pay for my expensive monthly prescription was only $10. I even had dental coverage.

But it didn't last. Our insurer went bankrupt, and no one else would take us -- apparently there are a lot of sick writers out there. And as a self-employed person, all I could afford was catastrophic health insurance with a massive deductible.

So I 'm back to doing things the old way - going to the dentist once a year, filling my prescriptions in Canada, and getting physicals and eye exams every couple of years. I go to the Chicago Women's Health Center, where at the end of your appointment you put what you can pay in a plain envelope - no questions asked. When I get sick, I consult the Doctors Book of Home Remedies and the homeopathic medicine guide.

If I don't get better, I go to the sympathetic doctor at the bare-bones clinic down the street, who always seems to have plenty of free samples for me.

Shortly after my insurance ran out, my right knee swelled up like a baseball. I saw a specialist who spent 10 minutes with me, took some unneccesary X-rays and wrote a prescription for some useless anti-inflammatory medication. When the bill came a few weeks later I almost fell over.

By then I knew that insurance companies never pay the sticker price. So I called the billing department and pleaded my case - and got my bill reduced by half. I felt like I'd won a million dollars.

I went to an even more special specialist, and negotiatied a 25 percent discount for paying right away. During the exam I explained my insurance problem, and the doctor drained my knee for free. I felt like I'd won two million dollars. Until my knee
blew up again.

It was finally cured by some exercises that Judith Lasater showed me.*

I still have crappy insurance, which is a constant source of stress, which leads to illness that in turn leads to trips to the doctor that I cannot afford. I can't wait for the day when the Healthy Illinois initiative become reality, and health insurance is affordable.

In the meantime, I've found a new dentist. It's a woman who calls me honey and charges a fraction of what my old one did. She cleans my teeth herself -- and no one bats an eye when I say I don't have an insurance card.


*The exercises are from Peter Egoscue's book Pain Free, which also contains simple cures for just about every malady imaginable.