Why You Need Health Insurance, and How I Learned it the Hard Way

A trip to the emergency room.Health insurance was not something that concerned me too much. I never had illnesses (besides an occasional cold or flu) and I have a pretty low risk of injury. I never felt that the cost was worth the protection. I felt especially confident since I had not seen a doctor in nearly a decade, and didn’t see a visit coming anytime in the near future.

If you’re standing, sit down now. I did not have health insurance for almost ten years.

It was at the behest of family and friends that I finally broke down and enrolled in my company’s health insurance plan in October of last year. Keep in mind that this was still during my company’s open enrollment period, meaning that I did not “officially” have insurance until January 1. Taking into account my dumb luck and how long I had gotten away without having any insurance, something was bound to happen while I was still uninsured. Go figure, it did.

On a quiet, unassuming Friday morning in mid-December, I went about my weekday routine. I was up just before 6 a.m. and dragged myself downstairs to fuel up with some coffee. As I awaited the warm, comforting brew, I turned on the T.V. and my laptop. After a minute or two of sitting on the couch, I was distracted by a slight pain in my lower back. I have had back pain before, even in the same area, so I did not give it much thought. I assumed it was merely a pulled muscle. When I finished my coffee (still in pain), I headed to the shower.

It was not until I was clothed, clean, and nearly ready to leave for work that the previously dull pain grew into the most excruciating and unbearable suffering I have ever endured. Without getting into too much detail and grossing you out, I will just say that I couldn’t go to the bathroom. It felt so horrible and I needed to go to the bathroom so badly, but I simply couldn’t. By this point, I was writhing in pain on and next to “the can.” Every time I would try to get up and go to work, I would succumb to the pain and end up curled into a ball, wailing and whining from the unbearable discomfort. My first thought was that my appendix had burst.

I had to yell into another room to awaken my sleeping fiancee. As I sat, curled over myself, I described the pain to her as she Googled possible ailments. I called work to let them know that I would be in the hospital soon and would not be able to make it to work. From my fiancee’s research, I was slightly relieved to find out that the appendix is on your right side, because my pain was on the left. But this “good news” left only one condition as a distinct possibility: a kidney stone.

We must have tried seven or eight times to leave the house before I was actually able to make it to the car to go to the ER. The pain was just too much to even move. When we got there, we did not have to wait at all. I put my name, address, and social security number on a sheet of paper and was promptly called in for treatment. I didn’t even sit down. As I was bombarded with questions from three different nurses, everyone seemed to be in agreement; I had a kidney stone.

Morphine is a great thing. It was my first experience with the drug, but it was fantastic. The pain was gone very quickly, and I felt good all over. I saw a doctor, finally was able to get a few drops of “sample” in a cup which relieved my pain, and a CT scan confirmed everyone’s suspicions. At that time, I couldn’t have cared less about the financial aspect of things. The painful part was over. After less than three hours in the hospital, I walked out, pain-free. Little did I know, that there was more pain to come. But it would not be physical in nature; rather, it would be an agony-inducing financial nightmare.

I had paid the initial ER fee with a credit card I had with me. It was just over $200. I figured that once I got the rest of the bills, it would be around $1000. My “worst case scenario” was $1500. I described my treatment to a few friends and acquaintances to see if they had any idea what the damage would be. Unfortunately, their estimates were all over the place, giving me no real clue how bad it would end up being. I was way off…

Over the next 6 weeks or so, the bills came in. The first, and worst, was from the hospital for $3,864.31. I’m not ashamed to admit that this absolutely floored me. I was physically pained to even think about being able to pay this amount. The next bill was much “better.” It was the pathology company who performed analysis of my sample asking for a much more manageable $67.00. Next came the radiology company, requesting $408.00. Ouch. Finally, the doctor who treated me sent his bill for $525.00. If you weren’t keeping track, that is a grand total of $4,864.31. That’s just a tad above what I had figured…yeah right!

While this occurrence did not ruin me financially since I had an emergency fund, situations like this happen to people every day and can ruin their. I ended up finding a service for the uninsured that negotiates medical bills, and they saved me about $1,700. A huge relief, indeed. But that did not stop me from learning a very important lesson: health insurance is very important. The very same trip to the E.R. would have cost me less than $500 if I had insurance at the time. It was a hard lesson to learn, but could have been catastrophic. Rest assured, I will not be without health insurance for as long as I can help it. Hopefully, for the rest of my life.

Hopefully this story makes you think twice if you or your family isn’t properly insured. What are your thoughts on health insurance?

(photo credit: Shutterstock)

  • http://controlyourcash.com Greg McFarlane

    A total of $3200, and you went a decade without insurance? Sounds like you got off relatively easily. That’s the equivalent of about $27/month.

    I recently canceled my insurance when Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield jacked my rates up from $286 to $333 a month. (I’m a 41 year old non-smoking non-drinker in excellent shape, who exercises daily and eats a healthy diet. But I have high blood pressure.) If I knew I was going to deal with nothing worse than a kidney stone every 10 years, as unpleasant as it sounds, I’d continue to take my chances. Simply because I can’t justify dropping $4000 a year for no apparent benefit.

    (Now watch me fall and break my leg today.)

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

      Yeah, if I had known that that would be the worst of it, and I saw it coming, it would have been no big deal. Unfortunately, it did come as a very unwanted surprise.

      Wow that is some EXPENSIVE insurance! You had better not break your leg though. Just walk lightly :-)

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    There have been a few months here and there (between jobs) when I’ve not been insured, but most of the time, I have had health insurance.

    What do I think about it?

    I was in the best shape of my life when I was diagnosed with cancer at 31. Luckily, I was insured, and my policy was excellent. My treatment cost well over $200,000.

  • http://www.moneycrashers.com Matt Breed

    Was that the overall cost before insurance, or is that what it cost just for you?

    If that was your out of pocket, I empathize. But since you said that your policy was excellent, I suspect that a good majority was taken care of.

    I hope everything is good now, and you’re cancer-free.

    • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

      That’s what it would have cost me, if I weren’t insured. All I paid were copays: $100 for the ER, $25 every week for my doc’s appointment, $25 for misc appointments with other docs. Oh, plus a few prescriptions (which I forgot about in the above total) that were $20-$50 each. Amazing.

      Yes, sir, I am coming up on three years cancer-free (and my health insurance policy isn’t as cushy as it was then, so timing was lucky).

      • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

        Glad to hear the timing was right, I mean, if there is anything “good” to be taken from the situation.

        A lot of people complain about shoddy insurance, and I’m sure some policies are junk, but for the most part, they do a very good job of taking care of us. Especially when you consider all of the crazy expenses that arise from equipment to lawsuits to research…you get the idea!

  • mark

    my question is, how much did you save by not paying health premiums for the 10 years you ran naked? You need to look at it as, pay me now or pay me later. I have a feeling you and your employer (who probably pays part of you insurance now) benefited overall . . . . . you probably saved money overall. .
    You didn’t cost the taxpayers any money. You were responsible and had enough saving to pay your debit. It looks to me as Obamacare eliminates that decision. You will be forced to pay for health insurance. Obamacare assumes the government knows better than we do. In the love haul, the healthcare the 80% of the population currently has will be worse in order to cover the few who chose not to have healthcare coverage or the government pays for,
    Make no mistake. Our quality heath care system will be negatively impacted by the way this program was enacted.

  • Kira

    I used to work at a hospital conducting research studies for patients with lymphoma and leukemia. I once had a patient who needed a particular drug to stay alive – as long as he was on the drug, he’d be fine – but the study only provided a year of the drug and the company would provide only a year beyond that for free, and it was about $13k a month just for this drug. My coworker who was training me at the time told the patient to get a job at the hospital doing anything at all, even janitorial work, because our health plan would cover it. Many of my patients were like Heather and were young and healthy when diagnosed with cancer. Our waiting room was routinely filled with people who didn’t look sick enough to need even a flu shot, but who would be dead within weeks if they didn’t have treatment. I was lucky to work at a state hospital that would cover bills for the truly poor, and would not deny you treatment if you couldn’t pay, but not everyone has access to that kind of resource.

  • http://www.yesiamcheap.com sandy @yesiamcheap

    I was “naked” from 17 to 23 and the worst I had to deal with was 3 wisdom tooth extractions. All i can say is, those bills were not pretty and my college attending self worked and paid them off. Now, I never miss open enrollment.

  • http://www.moneycrashers.com Matt Breed

    I did most definitely save thousands of dollars during those years I was not covered, but that’s not the way I viewed it, I was young and invincible back then!

    It seems that some people (myself included) just need that wake up call. I will never go uninsured again as long as the circumstances allow it.

  • http://change-is-possible.net Heather

    The more I think about this, the more that it seems that there are quite a few grown-ups with an affliction attributed only to teenagers: “It won’t happen to me.”

    • http://www.moneycrashers.com mattbreed

      Yeah, even though I’m thirty now, I’m not really that “grown up”. Maybe some day!

      Luckily, I’m over the immortality phase.

  • Anne

    Health insurance is a scary issue to me. I have a pre-existing condition but I found a place that gives quotes on affordable health insurance, regardless of pre-existing conditions. The person helping me was very nice. If anyone is interested the phone number is 877-717-4935