THE BLOG

Health Care As the New Terrorist to Fear

05/12/2008 08:27 pm 20:27:27 | Updated May 25, 2011

Thanks to America's health care system, today was a very stressful day for me. My story is so typical as to be boring -- which is a really sad commentary.

This morning, while thumbing through some routine paperwork, my wife discovered that I have no health insurance. Without going into the details, we missed a bi-annual deadline for payment -- a deadline that the company buried in fine print, and one that the company didn't even bother to tell us was approaching, or even missed after the fact. They just ended my coverage, with not so much as a letter or a phone call.

Fortunately for us, we discovered the situation before a 60-day continuity-of-coverage window closes, and I got temporary insurance. Of course, for bureaucratic reasons that I don't understand, I'm not allowed to re-enroll in the same plan I thought I was on. I have to wait to do that. Put another way, the health care company that had been gouging me, and then tossed me away without so much as a peep, is perfectly fine leaving me without coverage -- even if I'm willing to pay for it.

My initial reaction this morning was raw panic. Until the situation was resolved, I felt like I was going to periodically break down and cry because I felt so completely helpless. But now that the initial shock has passed, I can say I'm lucky in all of this.

I am a sole proprietor so I get gouged on health care, but my wife and I have worked hard to save diligently to pay for coverage through her graduate school (and to those who have flippantly claimed that because I'm a columnist and writer I make a whole ton of money, I will only say that the term "struggling writer" didn't come out of thin air - I ain't complainin' but I also ain't swimming in money). We have the resources, and thankfully, we caught this problem in time. But for every one of me who discovered the problem and had the resources to rectify it, there are probably 10 or 20 who either never figure out the problem until it's too late, can't pay to rectify the situation - or both. Just as frightening is how tiny an error you can make to watch your entire health care safety net be ripped away from you and your family.

Had I, say, been in a car accident in that time period that I didn't know I was cut off from coverage, I would have been bankrupted, and possibly not been able to pay for medical care that I needed to stay alive. That's not an exaggeration. Had I needed any kind of serious medical care in that time period, its very possible it would have cost me my entire life savings -- and the reason would be that we innocently missed a bureaucratic deadline that a company didn't even bother to warn us about -- or warn us that we had missed.

In a world of unending email and junk mail -- a world where the average person is flooded with paperwork -- this is an unacceptably small margin of error, especially considering what is at stake. I mean, we're not talking about losing a gym membership or a magazine subscription or your cable television for missing a deadline -- we're talking about losing access to life and death medical coverage. And yet, the margin of error that could lose you your coverage is less than the margin of error that a gym or a magazine or a cable company will grant you for their services.

This situation is emblematic of a health care system that is both immoral and broken. Throwing people off their health insurance with no warning because they accidentally misread fine print is sick and wrong -- and should be criminal like it is, say, with housing. In many localities, landlords have to give you at least some warning before evicting you for a missed payment. But unbelievably, that's not the way it is with health care.

The behavior is perfectly legal thanks to government policies that allow health insurance companies to do whatever they want, to whomever they want. And the behavior has created a whole new culture of fear. We now not only have to be afraid of Al Qaeda and hurricanes and evildoers, but also of the health insurance companies that we are customers of - and executives from these companies still have the nerve to go before Congress and publicly wonder why so many people hate their guts.

That this fear is now becoming an anger-based political uprising shouldn't be surprising. A population forced to live under this kind of terror -- and that's what it is -- is one that will start fighting back when the survival instinct kicks in. And by the looks of the polls on health care, the survival instinct has most definitely kicked in. Better late than never.

Join the book club for David Sirota's upcoming book, The Uprising, due out on 5/27.