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

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.

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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)

Matt Breed
You are looking at Matthew Breed. He is a 30 year old sports nerd who lives in North Florida with his fiancee, Sarah. Originally in school for a Business degree that did not work out due to capricious youth and irresponsibility, he is currently "getting past" his Peter Pan syndrome and attends classes for a degree in Information Technology while working full time. His care for personal finance stems from a modest upbringing with fiscally responsible parents who highly value education and frown upon frivolity.

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