I had a health scare this past week. No, I haven’t come down with some rare disease. I haven’t even acquired a new minor ailment. But what happened was pretty scary: I thought I’d lost my health insurance.
I inherited the worry gene from my mother. She could think of dozens of things that could go wrong on any given occasion. And with her it was always, “call me when you get there so I’ll know you’re all right.” She had high blood pressure for most of her life. Doctors used to warn her: “You’ll worry yourself to death if you don’t relax!” (She lived, by the way, to be 83)
Lucky me. Mom passed along her high blood pressure, her arthritis, and her worry gene.
When I leave home for an out-of-state conference, I’m always certain that A) the plane will crash and I’ll never make it back to Maine or B) the house will burn down while I’m gone. It doesn’t seem to matter than in umpty-zillion such trips absolutely nothing terrible has ever happened. My worst travel experience to date was being stuck in Newark in the middle of the night.
Anyway, getting back to the current cause for panic. There’s a certain irony at work here. One of the things I’ve always told new writers, only partly with tongue in cheek, is that to succeed in this business they need to acquire either a generous patron of the arts or a spouse with a “real” job and health insurance.
I’ve always had the latter. When my husband retired, I had to pick up the tab for 100% of my coverage, but at least I was still on the policy. I have lots of friends and family members who either have no health insurance or are underinsured, and they aren’t all self-employed writers, either. You get laid off, your health insurance ends. Oh, sure, they offer to sell you coverage, but since you are out of work, you can’t afford the premiums. Health insurance? Or food and rent or mortgage payments? Not a choice anyone should have to make.
So, flash forward to July 1, 2012, when the State of Maine switched insurance companies from Anthem to Aetna. I’d already talked to the good folks at Employee Health and Benefits when Anthem sent me a notice that my health insurance was about to expire. They assured me that as the spouse of a retired state employee who was herself still under retirement age, I’d automatically be switched to Aetna. But here’s the thing: when we received his retirement check on June 30, no health insurance deduction had been made. Oh oh! Add to that the fact that I had yet to receive a new insurance card in the mail and that it was by then the weekend, and I was in full-scale panic mode.
Think about it. Without any health insurance, how much would you have to pay for prescriptions? I’m pretty healthy overall,
but I take three meds for the blood pressure, one for the arthritis, and another to control my thyroid. It adds up even with health insurance. My worry gene didn’t stop there, of course. What would a routine tests cost? My eyes are getting old along with the rest of me. I have regular check ups for potential problems with glaucoma, cataracts, and field of vision. Any writer is going to be terrified of vision problems. Then there’s the big stuff. Without health insurance, how on earth would you pay for an emergency operation, say an appendectomy? If one was necessary to save your life, would you then spend the rest of that life paying for it? I don’t know about you, but with health care costs as high as they are, it wouldn’t take much to completely deplete my savings.
I suppose the worry gene is related to the creative imagination. Dreaming up worse-case scenarios is what I do for a living. So naturally, visions danced through my head all weekend long—everything from broken bones to a heart attack to an allergic reaction to tripping over one of the cats and getting a concussion in the resulting fall. There were a couple of nightmares, too, but fortunately I can’t remember the details.
When Monday finally arrived, I used the Aetna number that came with the retirement check and went in search of answers. They cheerfully informed me, after asking for my social security number, that I was NOT in their computer. Oh, joy!
I did think to ask if I was the only under-65-spouse-of-a-state-retiree-on-Medicare who’d been in touch with them with this problem. I was not.
Call number two was to Employee Health and Benefits (again!). I worked my way through a phone tree and left a voice mail message. It was late afternoon before I got a call back. Lots of time to worry. The nice lady on the other end assured me that I was still covered. She’d make a call and my insurance card would be sent right out. If I needed emergency care in the meantime, I could tell the hospital to call Aetna. The confusion there, apparently, was because I’m listed under my husband’s social security number, not mine. He’s the former state employee and therefore the one who is insured, although not by Aetna because retired employees are still with Anthem. (Don’t ask!) And what about the failure to deduct my insurance premium from hubby’s retirement check? Well, she wasn’t so sure about that. They’re checking into it. I shouldn’t worry.
Easy for her to say. Still I do, apparently, have health insurance. Did I receive my insurance card yet? Yes, on Thursday. Am I feeling more secure? More so than I was. But here’s the kicker. When I turn 65 and go on Medicare myself in a few months time, the state, in its infinite wisdom, will be switching me from Aetna back to Anthem for my supplemental insurance.
The worry gene is already poised to go into action.