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Plenty O' Pain to Go Around

Last August, I told Kaiser Permanente to permanently kiss my backside when they escalated my premiums from $400 a month to nearly $1,200 a month in a few short years simply because they could. I am today in pain and without medical insurance, which psychologically hurts.
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It hurts, in more ways than one, to type this column.

Last August, I told Kaiser Permanente to permanently kiss my backside (see Oct. 15, 2012, "Going Rogue: Kiss It Kaiser") when they escalated my premiums from $400 a month to nearly $1,200 a month in a few short years simply because they could.

I am today in pain and without medical insurance, which psychologically hurts. My right wrist is puffy, tender and swollen, and the balls of my feet feel as if someone's driving hot knives into them. I must wear thick wooly socks to protect against minus-zero-degree temps, and I cannot wear shoes because the socks, plus the swollen feet, make them too tight.

I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis more than 20 years ago; I have not, however, had symptoms in more than a dozen years -- until last week. Perhaps the years of Remicade infusions (typical R.A. medication) have worn off after eight months without. Perhaps all of the healthy lifestyle habits employed over the years, which I believe allowed me to take less Remicade than any rheumatologist could believe, cannot today fully mitigate the disease.

Perhaps there's no such thing as "rheumatoid arthritis," as books (The Yeast Connection, William B. Crook, M.D.), articles and some physicians now suggest. It may be the symptoms are more systemic, caused by yeast overgrowth, aka candidiases, which can be treated with diet and intermediary medications of far less potency and with fewer potential side-effects than the immune-system threatening Remicade.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cited several warnings in the past decade concerning the use of Remicade, including at least one black box warning, the strongest warning the FDA can require on prescription drug labeling. After a dozen years infusing it into my system, I am reluctant to continue the threat to my body.

I must unravel this quagmire of what is wrong/what to do about it outside of a so-called "health care network," and this harsh truth points to a larger, harsher truth: There is no health care system in the U.S.

So I tackle my health needs, including how to pay for it, alone.

I live in Colorado and look up something called CoverColorado. Their website states:

... established by the Colorado legislature in 1991 to help more Coloradans gain access to health care. It is a resource for eligible Colorado residents who do not have coverage through their employers and who cannot get individual coverage from health insurance companies due to a pre-existing medical condition.

The fine print: To apply, one needs a reject letter from an insurance company denying coverage. The rejection letter CoverColorado requires, me thinks, will be easy. Medical insurance brokers have scoffed at my attempts to secure coverage since leaving Kaiser.

Enter Blue Cross Blue Shield. I take nearly an entire day off work and tackle their 18-page application after a telephone agent tells me he doesn't have time to help the process. Six hours later, deep into the degrading, deeply-questioning process of the application, I think of the families that endure long, ongoing illnesses and the accompanying, endless paper bureaucracy, and I wonder how they do it.

I think of the millions with sick children, with elderly to care for, and the regular folks that have stuff happen to their bodies.

I think of the tired and snippy insurance company employees to whom you pose a question, as I did, for clarification and how, every time you ask a question, they begin a long-winded answer that has three or four caveats, and then when you ask for clarification of the caveat, they get exasperated because they've answered that question 3,893 times already this month and they can't take it that you can't work out the crazy, insurance chess game on your own.

Some don't even try. I know a man who has dealt with multiple, life-threatening conditions for more than 20 years. He long ago looked at all the insurance system's mind-bending terms and limitations and elected to self-pay; the best treatment options were out of his network and he could afford to pay out-of-pocket.

I get it.

But I don't have those resources and so fax off the 18-page application.

I'd like to report that I received the needed insurance-denied rejection letter or a medical insurance policy not priced at 233 percent of my mortgage payment, which the telephone agent did say was entirely possible, given my circumstances, but I cannot.

Weeks into the process, Blue Cross Blue Shield demands a blank check to complete my application, which would allow them to determine a cost that they would then automatically withdraw from my account, should they deem me insureable. The amount may be thousands.

I've never bought anything for which I did not first know its price. I've never handed any business a signed, blank check with the understanding that that business would help itself to whatever it wanted.

So I remain uninsured and my wrist still hurts; my feet are on fire. I take two Ibuprofen and think of how I've no clear plan except to get a glass of water to swallow them with.

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