David Wheeland of Libertyville, Ill., lost his health insurance when he quit his job to care for his mother and uncle in 2007. He didn't plan for the caretaking role to be a long-term thing, but that's how it turned out. After about six months, he figured he should try to buy some health insurance on his own.
It was a mistake. An epic fail.
"I have always regarded health insurance as an appallingly immoral scam, but my experience has driven that conviction home more deeply than I could ever have imagined," Wheeland, 58, wrote in an email to the Huffington Post.
In a phone interview, Wheeland said he first applied for insurance in late in 2007. He picked Humana because he'd seen a lot of their advertisements. He said a woman interviewed him over the phone for a good 45 minutes, asking questions about his health and employment. The woman was very nice.
"She kept saying, 'God bless you.' She said that about three times," Wheeland said. "I have no idea why."
Wheeland forked over his bank account number and authorized Humana to withdraw $110 to pay for an underwriting analysis. At the time, he thought he'd have no trouble getting insurance. He said he even discussed with the woman which plan would be best for him. She told him he'd need to schedule a physical as part of the process, and they'd let him know in a month.
Then Wheeland got sick. "I was nauseated. It went on for a few days."
He went to the acute care center across the street from where he used to work. After a few minutes of cursory examination, the doctor reached an upsetting conclusion. "She said, 'I think you need to have a CT scan. You could have a mass.' I totally panicked.
"I explained to her that I didn't have insurance and asked how much it would cost. She didn't know but she said maybe a thousand dollars. She said, 'Yes, this whole thing's terrible.' Every doctor I have encountered along the way has said that about insurance."
Wheeland said he was "sweating bullets" while he waited for the result. But it was a false alarm.
When the specialist who interpreted the CT scan called, "[she] said 'It shows nothing.' I said, 'OK...and what do I do?' She said, 'You should see a doctor.'"
Wheeland instead just went home. And suddenly he felt better. But then a rash came on. It started spreading all over his body. "It was horrible. It was terrible. If I put the sheets on it was like they were made of ground glass."
Wheeland returned to the acute care place, where a different doctor told him he might be allergic to the dye used in the CT scan. The doctor prescribed some inexpensive drugs to cure the rash. "He wrote on the report 'PLEASE AVOID DYE IN FUTURE.'"
Not long after the insurance physical, in December 2007, Wheeland heard back from Humana: denied.
Wheeland said the denial letter cited his failure to get a recommended enema.
"I don't know what they're alluding to," he said. "I don't remember anything about anyone wanting to give me an enema, at all."
Then the bills from the hospital started arriving.
"It was an expensive December," he said. The first visit to the acute care center cost over $3,000, and the subsequent visits added another $600. Wheeland said he's given up on trying to get insurance. He's unemployed and living on savings.
"I had a bronchial infection last year but otherwise I'm healthy," he said. "I'm probably shooting myself in the foot but the idea of going through another insurance interrogation like that...It was the most bizarre thing, like one of those old film noir things. I was literally breaking out in cold sweats. It was a nasty experience, and weird and unnerving...And sickening!"
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