It is early in the morning and I am frantic. My father has fallen in the parking lot of his apartment complex. He was taking out the trash and tripped over a crack in the pavement. He is frail and sick, a shell of the man who threw boxes of sausage around the Stop & Shop warehouse for nearly twenty years.
I am worried, not only for his health and well-being, but for another major reason. He does not have health insurance.
The ambulance takes him to Yale-New Haven Hospital where we learn he has a separated shoulder. A staff member from the business office visits him before he is discharged and encourages him to apply for Medicaid. I already know he’s not eligible. He is a member of that population that earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, but his current medical conditions and history of bladder cancer and liver failure increases the cost of insurance coverage for him. The Charter Oak Health Plan, available for Connecticut residents age 19-64 with no insurance costs $593 a month, almost half of his monthly retirement pension. At 63, he is too young for Medicare. As a veteran he has access to the VA Hospital, but the appointments are few and far between. He has said many times to me, “Those boys coming back from Iraq need help more than I do.”
These are his options. None of them are good for him, or get him quickly or inexpensively connected to the health care he desperately needs. He walks a tight rope every day. Something as simple as a fall sends him into medical abyss.
About a week after his emergency room visit we get the bills from the hospital visit and the ambulance ride: $1,100 for the ambulance, $9,700 for the facility bill, $550 for the doctors who treated him in the ER, $250 for the doctor who read his x-rays – a grand total of $11,550.
My father worked hard his entire life. When he was diagnosed with bladder cancer in 2002, he went back to work two weeks after his surgery and worked through all of his cancer treatments. But when the warehouse he worked at shut down suddenly in 2006, his life was shattered. A lifelong problem drinker, he slumped deeper into addiction, feeling like he had lost his purpose. He was fortunate to secure a retirement pension; however, the insurance was too expensive for him to maintain. He let it lapse. He had to make a decision – health insurance or putting food on his table. That is a tough choice for anyone to make, but a choice many people have to make.
This journey my father and I are on has so many hills and valleys. I get frustrated about his inability to get help, even though sometimes he is his own roadblock. This frustration led me to join the battle for health equity and to become a Connecticut Health Foundation Health Leadership Fellow.
While there is hope on the horizon with the Affordable Care Act, this world my father lives in is terrifying for both of us. I cringe when I see him navigate stairs. He stays home a lot and has stopped driving completely. I imagine he does this to maintain a sense of control. But when it comes to your own health, there are some things that are out of your control if you lack health insurance.
We must continue to fight for people like my father, who have worked hard, and due to circumstances beyond their control lose insurance coverage. I am hopeful the ACA will increase access to health insurance coverage for all who need it.