Crimes against Humanity
Cartoon by Mike Konopacki, courtesy of Huck-Konopacki Labor Cartoons
SiCKO Health-Care Horrors
When you hear these stories, these aren't anecdotal stories. These are stories that are representative of the evidence that exists. The evidence says we lose 18,000 Americans every year simply because they don't have a health insurance card. How many thousands we lose because people -- even when they have insurance -- they can't afford the co-pays, can’t afford the deductibles.
You see, at the beginning of the movie, one woman is an editor of a small-town paper, her husband is a machinist. They work good jobs, they’re middle class people. And they end up in their 50s living in their daughter's basement because they’ve been bankrupted by medical bills, and they had health insurance. They had health insurance. The co-pays and the deductibles alone bankrupted them. And the premium - jacking up the premium so high they could no longer afford to keep their own home.
That is a crime. I believe that these insurance companies are a criminal racket. That should not be happening in the United States of America. -- Michael Moore, testifying before the California state legislature on health care
These cries for help undoubtedly remain the most painful editing I have ever had to do in my 30-year journalism career, even more excruciating than the stories I wrote about 9/11. I felt heartsick as the gut-wrenching testimonials flooding my e-mail wreaked of total exasperation, bewilderment and devastation – all preventable if there was proper health-care legislation in place. Sometimes, like when I read the Dimarco story, tears sprung from my eyes.
As Moore himself says, these aren't just anecdotal tales. They are unfortunately very real. What we have here in Sedona's own back yard are unnecessary tragedies with a striking similarity to those in the SiCKO film itself: lost homes, lost life savings, lost lives, lost dreams and lost hope.
In fact, as we were compiling this article long before we even saw the film, our opening paragraph captured the first horror story that came to us about a Sedona carpenter named Raymond B., who sliced himself open last May with a table saw. Despite blood spurting everywhere and a main artery nearly severed, he refused a friend's offer to rush him to the local hospital emergency room for fear he would not be able to afford what he called "the $5,000 Band-Aid."
Ray has no health insurance.
And Ray knows better. Another accident two years ago landed him in the very hospital he was trying to avoid. The aftermath of that nightmare left him with a staggering pile of medical bills he can barely make payments on. Before he cut himself open this time, Ray was already facing foreclosure on his home.
With Sedona's abysmal wages, the prospect of medical bills running into the thousands of dollars — on top of his already unmanageable mountain of debt — was unthinkable. So Ray's friend watched in horror as the woodworker "glued" his gaping wound back together, writhing in pain as he poured hydrogen peroxide on it to prevent the possibility of gangrene.
Then SiCKO came to Sedona. We went to see the film and couldn't believe our eyes and ears. The opening frame was identical to the opening sentence of our story about Ray. So we had to change everything around so readers wouldn't think we were trying to mimic Moore.
Our story now begins with the horrors of Joseph and Andrea Dimarco instead, who also face the inevitable loss of their home much like Ray. Their submission, “Rolling Coins from Our Piggy Bank,” so poignantly captures everything that's wrong with our health system and social agencies that we asked them to appear in our “SiCKO in Sedona” video. Andrea was feeling so ill that we didn't expect her to appear for the shoot. She not only made the effort to speak out while in pain and on morphine on a brutally hot day, but even volunteered along with Joe to use her real name.
"I have to do something to make a difference," she said. Perhaps Andrea's courage to take a stand will inspire many others to do the same.
When we met for the filming, Joseph gave me a piece of artwork he had crafted – a single word carved in metal: BELIEVE. His message hangs above my desk for encouragement as I write about health-care reform every day until it becomes a reality. I believe that America will not let the Dimarcos remain in a bottomless pit of despair and become forgotten. I believe people like them are the bellwethers of change for this nation, as painful as it may be.
For a real-life sense of the Dimarco's heartbreak, listen to their testimony on our live video stream by Sedona filmmaker Stephen DeVol. Just click on the links to the video on the front page.
But "SiCKO in Sedona" doesn't end here. As the stories keep pouring in, we'll continue to post them. Because we believe they need to be heard until something is done. Click on the links below to submit your story, anonymously if you prefer. And check out the additional section of health-care workers' horror stories on our Workplace page for the truth about what's going on in area hospitals.
The Sedona Observer is not reporting these stories for the sake of sensational news copy. Rather, we hope it will serve as a catalyst for all citizens to take action, insured or not, and end the unnecessary havoc and destruction that capitalistic health "care" wreaks on human life.
The Sedona Observer thanks everyone who had the courage to step forward and tell their stories for the sake of health-care reform. Many of them prove that Ray's reference to the "$5,000 Band-Aid" is certainly no joke.
Now read 'em and weep - as we did. Oh, and as Moore says, "This might hurt a little."
-- Catherine Rourke, Managing Editor and Journalist, UNINSURED
SiCKO in Sedona Horror Stories
ROLLING COINS FROM OUR PIGGY BANK – Can somebody please help us?
“As I sit here rolling coins from a piggy bank my mother gave me a long time ago, contemplating what bills to pay or what medical supplies to buy for my wife, I am reflecting on how our life together has changed in just three years.
In June 2004 my wife Andrea and I were fully employed and in good health. One month later she was diagnosed with colon cancer. The doctor did a colon resection and gave her a 99-percent chance that all the cancer was removed.
At that time, Andrea was working as an assistant manager at one of our local banks. Our insurance coverage through Cigna was very good. There were no deductibles and prescriptions were with a co- pay so our out-of-pocket expenses for this procedure were minimal.
Andrea’s health was good after this course of treatment, and she was offered a job as an office manager in a local business. Changing employment meant changing insurance coverage. For the next 18 months, due to portability, Cigna would continue to cover all necessary medical expenses.”
“In these months the necessary treatments would include a colon resection, diagnostic testing that would show additional tumors in the liver, surgery on the liver and chemo therapy that would continue up to December 2006 when Cigna would discontinue coverage. Also, during this time, the treatments began to take a toll on Andrea’s physical and mental well-being. She could no longer work full-time, resulting in a loss of income.
In January 2006 the new insurance coverage would be through Blue Cross Blue Shield. The monthly premium of $976 still leaves a yearly deductible of $10,000 that must be paid out-of-pocket. Medications are not covered at all.
In November 2006 the cancer came back after months of chemo. New tumors grew outside of her colon close to the resection and also grew on the kidney. Radical choices about her treatment had to be made. We went with radiation and chemo, not being told that the radiation would make the inside of her colon vulnerable to future treatments. After months of chemo and radiation, Andrea was no longer able to work even part-time.”
Behind in mortgage and life savings wiped out by medical bills
“Meanwhile, the medical expenses not covered by insurance are mounting almost on a daily basis. Because Andrea needs help with doctor appointments and getting to and from treatment facilities (some of which are in Phoenix), and even with such simple things as cooking her own meals, I now have to cut back on my own business, resulting again in further loss of income.
In May Andrea was told to have another colonoscopy to see what was going on inside of her colon. After that colonoscopy, Andrea began to experience severe pain and constant bleeding. After consulting with a colon rectal specialist in Phoenix, we made the decision for Andrea to undergo a procedure to put in a colon rectal stint.
Since then, Andrea has had to have several blood transfusions totaling 17 pints. Andrea still has constant rectal pain and must now take time-released morphine. The bleeding still continues.
We have had to use all of our savings and have maxed out all of our credit cards in order to pay medical bills, so we are now two months behind in our mortgage. Because I am self-employed, my ability to run my own business has declined in direct proportion to the need to monitor and assist with Andrea’s medical issues.
Every time we go to the hospital I have to ask, ‘Do you know how to use a port?’ Four out of five nurses say, “No.” This and other disturbing situations have made me realize that I must pay close attention to what is being done to Andrea while is she undergoing any kind of treatment.”
Losing our home and everything we worked for
“It seems that money goes out faster then it comes in. I called the Arizona Dept. of Economic Security back in February and put all of the paperwork together and sent it to them, as well as calling many times, but I still have had no response from them. I spoke with the Phoenix office on July 27 and was told that Andrea’s paper work was not submitted by the Cottonwood office.
So our debt climbs higher and we are now going to have to sell our house because it is the only resource we have left. Both hospital and chemo clinics have asked me to sign a promissory note for moneys owed in amount of at least $1,000 a month. Andrea faces many more tests and procedures, with no guarantee of a cure."
After 36 years of marriage, we are facing a bleak future and it is hard to believe
that this could happen in America. We thought that we had done all the right things
and yet we are facing losing everything we have worked so hard for.
Joseph and Andrea Dimarco, Sedona
Dysfunctional government bureaucracies
“On August 1, I wrote a letter and sent it to the attention of Gov. Janet Napolitano. After about two weeks, I received a call from the program manager for District 3. She assured me that she would help to straighten out the red tape so that we would know what we qualify for. Without her help, we would still be waiting.
Part of what we can possible qualify for is reimbursement for out-of-pocket moneys that we spent on prescriptions. Because Andrea’s case wasn’t processed for seven months, we must now go through a process to qualify for reimbursement. This involves submitting bills and receipts for those seven months. The copies were-hand delivered to the Cottonwood office.
So again, we waited… and waited…. and waited. Finally, I called the Phoenix office to find out if we were going to be reimbursed. I was told that they could not find our paperwork again. At this point, I called the program manager again and she found the paper work and submitted it to the right department.”
Endless waiting, endless paperwork
“So we waited … and waited …and waited. On September 14, we received EIGHT letters from the Phoenix office all refusing to pay us back. I called the Phoenix office to ask for an explanation of why were refused payment. I spoke to a caseworker and she told me to recopy and resubmit all of the paper work to Mercy Care.
As you can imagine, this really upset me. I requested to speak to a supervisor. The supervisor told me I was being unreasonable. I tried to explain that I didn’t have the money to recopy and mail all that paperwork again. I asked her to call the program manger in the hope that she could help straighten this out. I then called the program manger to let her know what was going on.
By the end of the day she had not heard from the Phoenix office. She called me before she went on vacation to let me know and gave me the phone number for a client advocate. On the following Monday, I received a phone call from the Phoenix office supervisor. She apologized for not knowing the case history and said she had the paperwork therefore I did not have to recopy and resubmit it. She also said she would send that paper work to Mercy Care herself. That conversation took place on September 24. I guess all we have to do now is wait…
I called AHCCCS to find out the status of Andrea’s case since I was getting nowhere with the office in Cottonwood. I called the main office in Phoenix and was told her case was not input into any computer at their office. I called the Cottonwood office after the weekend again and tried to get a supervisor.
They gave me a very hard time, put me on hold and then we were disconnected. I redialed and said that I would write Michael Moore and Governor Janet Napolitano. Within a few minutes the supervisor got on the phone. I was told that they were overworked and understaffed. And that she would work on Andrea’s case herself in the next day and would call, and she did.”
Broke but ineligible for help
"I was told that Andrea and I were on a Mercy Care plan all the way back to February 2007 and that we would get a packet in the mail to explain to us what this plan would do for us. We received a paper that explains what AHCCCS health insurance covers. Still, this doesn’t help with finances. We are very confused and need financial support.
We cannot get food stamps since we have $2,000 in our saving account. And we still do not know what Mercy Care covers.
I called AHCCCS to again ask about reimburse procedures. I was told to fax all info to them – pages upon pages. They will send the info to the department and make a decision on this case. I called all the hospitals to see if we had any outstanding bills, letting all know that we were on Mercy Care. They would send a hardship package to us - one sheet with so many questions - proof you are in financial despair.
I am bringing Andrea to a cancer panel clinic in Scottsdale. I needed to talk to her doctor about her pain, which is a ganglion impar block, and to get her off morphine. The doctor gave me another prescription only to find out that Mercy doesn’t pay for that medicine – which means more out-of-pocket moneys that we don’t have.”
No compassion, dignity or humanity
“As it often is with large bureaucracies, all people can become lumped together no matter what their issues or their needs. Andrea and I are in this position not by choice. Andrea’s case is one of sickness. It is not a pregnancy or a request for welfare.
A difficult and painful situation should not be made more difficult by the process that is supposed to help. Sickness often involves pain both emotional and physical, and compassion must at some point play a role in bureaucracy. The complexity of the system coupled with understaffing results in a lack of recognition of basic human dignity.
We are now about $36,108 in monies owed and the figure climbs every day. Interest charges keep mounting up. We haven’t sold Andrea’s car yet. And Wells Fargo keeps calling.
I will call my lawyer to start a bankruptcy for my business. Help! We don’t know what to do.”
-- Joseph and Andrea Dimarco, Sedona
LISTEN TO THE DIMARCOS ON OUR SiCKO VIDEO
A senseless death
“This guy I worked with at the cement plant – a father with another kid on the way – injured himself ironically enough on Father’s Day this year. He was playing with his kid, swinging from a tree, and hurt his foot. So they took him to the local hospital where they shot him up with morphine to kill the pain. But they gave him too much and killed him instead.
He died without his kid ever knowing him. Just like that. Nothing in the papers, nothing about malpractice. The hospital is big with ads and stories in the papers, you know, and the whole thing was hushed up. Kind of weird, isn’t it?” -- L.R., Clarkdale, Ariz.
One of the 18,000 who die every year for lack of insurance
“The story that always comes to my mind - especially as somebody who also does not have health insurance since I work for myself - is about a woman who used to work for me and who came to Jerome to pursue her art. She left working on Wall Street and a corporate career to follow her passion.
She left the job in Jerome to follow her art more intently, with no insurance, of course. Then I get this call saying she had died. What happened?
She had a miscarriage and did not follow it up with a visit to the doctor since she couldn't afford to do so. Because of this she had an infection that turned into a staph infection, which killed her. She was only in her thirties.
I know how she struggled financially to do her thing. She was a well-known artist in Jerome and because she couldn't afford to rack up debt with a visit to the doctor, it cost her life.” -- K.M., Jerome
Brush with death costs over $50,000
“My husband almost died last week! We went to emergency room and they sent him to the hospital - of course we have no insurance. They did the operation in Flagstaff and he is now home. We don't know the end result but we now have over $50,000 in bills from the operation!” -- S.B., Village of Oak Creek
Patients in pain turned away as "a costly hassle"
“Even as crazy as the health-care system has been to us, we were just dealing with it until we saw SiCKO. Then our eyes were opened even wider to the ludicrous health-care system we have in the U.S., compared to other countries. As Dennis Kucinich says so often, ‘We already pay for universal health care in the U.S. We just don't get it.’
My wife and I could write a book on the past 20 years we have been dealing with the illusion of health care called Medicare. I won't bore you with that. However, I worked hard for nearly a year to get Naomi on the Arizona Heath Care Cost Containment System (AHCCS) because doctors were ordering tests in the thousands of dollars, which was wiping us out each month and none of them were making her any healthier.
We were doing very well with $300-500 per month of our Social Security income in alternative procedures and herbs, etc. When we finally found a good doctor, AHCCS would not cover it because it wasn't the doctor it recommended.
When Naomi finally went on AHCCS again, we had just seen SiCKO. She threw her hip out and was in intense pain. We called a chiropractor she had used before and, when we got to his office, his secretary said he was no longer handling Medicare patients because it was such a costly hassle. High-paid Medicare employees in expensive office buildings were making the medical decisions as to whether to pay each bill or not.
We returned home and I called the only doctor in Verde Valley who took AHCCS patients. Her secretary told me she could not take Naomi because she was in pain and she no longer took patients if they were in pain. I called AHCCSS again and they gave me the name of another doctor. I called that doctor and the secretary told me the doctor was no longer taking AHCCSS patients.
Thank you, Michael Moore, for shattering the illusory feeling of protection we are getting from our government and insurance companies.” -- Charles Hinkley, Ph.D., Sedona
Treated like a criminal by the health and welfare systems
“Five years ago I had a sudden onset of debilitating head pain, dizziness, nausea, weakness and seizure-like tremors and was taken to the emergency room at the largest hospital in Northern Arizona. The doctor was so rude, abrupt and demanding that I lost my composure and started to cry. He said, ‘You are way overreacting,’ and left. I was discharged.
A week later, still sick and much weaker, a family-practice doctor instructed me to go to the emergency room and he would meet me there. But they told the doctor they had discharged me, so he never saw me.
They instead called a neurologist in, without my knowledge or permission. I had no choice but to accept him. He admitted me to the hospital and ordered numerous tests - all except the obvious and important one - an EEG. He found a few "minor" abnormalities in the other tests, but told me, ‘Pull yourself up by the boot-straps and get better. Otherwise, I will refer you to Behavioral Health.’ He discharged me.
I tried to get on with my life, but soon found myself in an emergency room in Phoenix, where I was treated for a migraine and told to leave. I was unable to walk or lift my head and could not see to dial the phone. So they wheeled my bed into the waiting room and left me there, where I drifted in and out of consciousness. Several hours later I was able to dial my cell phone and get someone to pick me up.”
More pain, no gain
“A year later, still having symptoms that seemed to indicate a chronic systemic condition of some kind, my family doctor referred me to a physical therapist whose theory was that the problem was caused by muscle cramping, and who manipulated my neck and shoulders so violently that a nerve tore in my shoulder, causing loss of control of my right arm. The pain was extreme. The doctor gave me painkillers and sent me home. It took three months and three different doctors to diagnose the injury (two of them told me there was no injury), and it had to be surgically repaired.
At that point I contacted a lawyer to see if I had any recourse, as I could not work because of the injury and had therefore lost my house. The lawyer advised me that the doctor would have to include in his diagnosis the cause of injury, but the doctor refused.
Meanwhile, since I live alone and could not drive or use my right arm, I looked for some kind of services for low-income shut-ins - housecleaning, grocery shopping, cooking and other essentials. None were available. I would have had to hire someone, but I had no money.
I was told by a caregiving organization that they could not help me because I was less than 65 years old. ‘Have someone in your family help you,’ they said. I have no family here. Living in a house that has not been cleaned for over three months is disgusting and degrading.”
Dysfunction begins at the government level
“I began to see that the invisibility of the low-income disabled is a symptom of a dysfunctional social system that starts at the level of government, and that any person who is disabled long enough becomes low-income. How many people like me - productive citizens who became ill - are hungry, filthy, lonely and facing homelessness? It was as though I had committed a crime.
For the next three years, I made the most of the good days and accepted the chronic pain and constant fatigue.
Unfortunately, the undiagnosed condition continued to progress, and a gastrointestinal problem developed. It took two months to get a referral and another three weeks to get an appointment with a
gastroenterologist. By that time I was down to 106 pounds. He ordered tests and preliminary blood screening.
The day before the tests, I got a call from the doctor's office saying I'd had the wrong blood test done. She tried to make me believe it was my fault before admitting she had ordered the wrong test, but that since it was a mistake, I would have to pay for it. After much heated discussion, she offered to reimburse me if I brought her a receipt.
I went back to the lab, only to find that she had not faxed required permission for the lab to share the info with the radiology department that needed it. A while later I got a call from the radiology department asking if I had the ‘contrast fluid’ to drink prior to the next day's test. I had not been told about this, so I had to drive back to the lab for it.
The next day I called to double-check that it was still OK to have the two scheduled tests done on the same day. I was assured it was fine. When I got the first test, I mentioned the second one, and they
were appalled because the substances given for the first one could cause serious consequences during the second one. This was precisely the kind of reason I had previously called to check for. I had to
cancel the second test.”
“My insurance company, Blue Cross Blue Shield, has declined to pay any more than $300 for the test I had, leaving me to pay $2,100. I may as well be uninsured.
Meanwhile, I received a copy of a letter from the gastroenterologist to my family practitioner, saying that I had upset his office manager and he would therefore no longer see me as a patient.
I asked my family practitioner for a referral to another gastroenterologist. It took two weeks for that office to get me the name of someone, who is a long distance from my town. I called their office during business hours and got a recorded message saying to leave my name and number and they would call me to make an appointment. They have not called.”
Broke in a broken system
“Since I am running out of money, I applied to AHCCS for additional health insurance. They declined my application due to ‘excessive income.’ I have $700 in the bank. With that and whatever income I can still make while I am sick, I must pay for rent, groceries, utilities, health insurance premiums and all the medical expenses Blue Cross Blue Shield won't pay.
Meanwhile, I am still undiagnosed, live with constant pain, fatigue, nausea, weight loss and have a shoulder that will never function as well as it did before it was injured by a medical professional.
A friend who is a veterinary technician says that if I were a dog, I would have been given an appointment, diagnosed and treated the first day and would now be living a healthy, tail-wagging life.”
-- B.K., Down and out in Sedona
Migraine headache costs more than knee surgery
“The doctor at the urgent-care facility asked me if it was the worst headache of my life. I said yes, because it was. I had been sick with it all night, but didn't dare go to the emergency room because of the cost, and I knew they could help me at urgent care.
The first thing in the morning I went to urgent care. I walked into chaos. As the doctor was examining me, I heard a nurse burst into tears. One of their fellow nurses had just died of cancer, and the office was in upheaval.
The doctor was clearly upset. He told me since my headache was on one side of my head, I could be having a stroke. (I would later look up ‘migraine’ in the dictionary and find out that the definition for a migraine is a headache on one side of the head.) He said he realized I didn't have insurance but that I should go to the emergency room right away. I was frightened, so I went.
At the emergency room the doctor looked in my eyes, tested my motor skills and ordered a cat scan. He was with me all of 10 minutes. The nurse attending me said I should relax, that someone telling me I was ‘stroking’ could be incorrect. It wasn't a stroke. I left the emergency room within an hour.
In 2003 I had knee surgery. The total cost (uninsured) for the doctor, MRI, surgery and outpatient hospital use was $2,945. The CAT scan for my knee cost $719.46, and it took much longer to do than the CAT scan for my head, which cost $2,098.
This is the bill I received for my migraine headache:
CT scan/head $2,098.00
Emergency room 640.00
Drugs (one shot of morphine) 195.83
Other RX services -? (doctor wrote a prescription) 44.00
Physician's bill 493.00
Imaging (unexplained; CT paper cost?) 360.00
Total cost: $3,830.83
My migraine cost almost $4,000. Didn't the doctor at urgent care read the migraine section at medical school? If the dictionary knew I had a migraine, why didn't he? Does Afghanistan need money to grow more poppies? One 10-milligram shot of morphine costs $195.
This was all very upsetting, and I knew I would have to set up a payment plan. This is what the Northern Arizona Healthcare system wanted me to do. They call it a ‘payment assistance application.’
Here’s what they required:
- 3 months of personal bank statements (all accounts)
- 3 months of check stubs or a letter from my employer
- Copy of an award letter from social security
- Copy of any pension benefit letter
- Profit-and-loss statements for current quarter if self-employed
- Proof of any other money received
To me this is all an invasion of my privacy. Medicine has a Privacy Act making it impossible for me to get medical information about my husband without his consent. What happens if there is an emergency and I need to know something? But the medical system wants all of my private accounts! No way.
I am sending them $20 a month (as I do for my knee surgery). Now they are harassing me with automated phone messages to call them. One morning I received four calls between 7 and 9 a.m. I do not answer. I am being treated like a criminal because I was ill.
I have worked at the same job for 13 years. There are no benefits for many people living and working here. Most businesses are retail and family-owned.
My question is: Why do people who do not work, or worse yet, are here illegally, get free medical help and the working class doesn't?
That is my story and I have been wanting to tell it.” -- Donna Drake, Sedona
LISTEN TO DONNA TALK ABOUT HEALTH-CARE GREED ON OUR SiCKO VIDEO
Insurance lies and deceit
“We pay almost $700/month for Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Arizona health insurance for me and my husband. When we contracted for the insurance, I called to ask very specifically where we should go in case of emergency since I had never lived in a small town. Their office told me to go to either the urgent- care facility in Sedona or the hospital ER in Cottonwood. By the way, I called twice asking this question and received the same answer each time.
One Sunday morning my husband became very ill and I took him to the ER because the urgent care does not open until 11 a.m. on Sunday. We happily found out there was nothing seriously wrong with him after they checked him.
We later received a bill from BCBS for almost $2,000! I complained for months, wrote letters and described my conversations with their office when I had asked about emergency services, all to no avail. I had to pay or have my credit ruined.
They said they had no record of my calls - how convenient. They also said that it is in my benefit book (it is literally a book) that ER visits go against the deductible. I cannot find that.
This is a perfect example of a lie or omission. When I called and asked where to go for emergencies, they should have told me that there was a difference in how they bill the two options.
By the way, a woman who works in customer service agreed with me that I should have been told the difference in billing. Urgent care would have cost us $60.” -- A.P., Sedona
Losing everything to breast cancer
“I am a 52-year-old, ex-attorney on disability. I had a successful law practice in Little Rock, Ark., and practiced law for 15 years until my first bout with breast cancer in November 2002.
I was a sole practitioner with a large staff and overhead. When I got sick, and after the recommended treatment of a lumpectomy and two months of radiation to my left breast, I immediately tried to go back to the office. This essentially left me no recovery time because I had bills and employees to pay.
The only reason I agreed to radiation was because my breast surgeon told me that it would reduce my chances for recurrence to less than 5 percent. I guess I am in the ‘less-than-5-percent category.’
Intuitively I knew as a sole practitioner that if I were not in the office to keep things going, my company would not make it. I’m sure this is every small-business owner’s worst fear. I tried to go back, but I just could not do what I had always been able to. Things started to crash in on me, and there was nowhere to turn for help.”
“I lost everything, everything I had worked so hard for over 20 years. I lost my home, my business my career and what I thought was my identity. I was overwhelmed with grief, anger and fear. I had always been the type who would just get up, dust myself off and get going again.
This time was different. I had what doctor’s used to call a nervous breakdown. And I have not been mentally able to practice law since. The stress is just too much.
My husband and I moved to Sedona a little over two years ago to enable my healing. I could not deal with living in the place where so much had happened. What was I going to do now? Who was I now?
Then, after a mammogram in February of this year, I got the news that once again there were micro-calcifications showing up on my films. The radiologists were sure it was DCIS in the left breast for now the second time. ‘Shocked’ isn’t quite a strong enough word to represent me and my husband’s reaction. Once you have cancer, even though you try not to worry about it coming back, it is always in the back of your mind. I could not believe it was happening again.”
Pain and anguish
“My doctor in Sedona ordered a breast MRI at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, which did not happen for TWO months because of lack of communication between Mayo and my doctor's office. When we got the MRI results back, we were even more shocked. The lengthy report said I had “invasive” breast cancer, probably in two different areas. A core biopsy was recommended and ordered. Approximately one month later, I was scheduled for the biopsy at Mayo.
After four hours with my breast through a hole in the table I was laying on and after FOUR "attempts" to retrieve tissue, which had calcifications in it, they finally got the core sampling necessary to do the biopsy. Any woman who has ever had a breast biopsy knows that they are painful and very uncomfortable. The results were NOT invasive but DCIS, the same diagnosis as in 2002. It was incredibly stressful living with the radiologist's incorrect reading of the MRI until we got the biopsy results. However, I am extremely relieved that it is not invasive.
Then, my husband and I met with the breast surgeon. She strongly recommended a mastectomy. A mastectomy? ‘That is ‘protocol’ with a recurrence such as yours,’ the female breast surgeon proclaimed with confidence. She had also been convinced when looking at the MRI that there were two areas of invasive breast cancer. These are Mayo doctors, and they do not make mistakes like that.”
“My husband asked what she would do if she were in my situation. And she said, ‘Well, first of all I would not have had radiation the first time, because this basically left you with no other options the second time.’ Unknown to me, you cannot re-radiate a breast a second time. I was not told this. I did what was ‘protocol’ the first time, and what the doctors told me to do, even though I knew in my heart what would happen. And, it did happen.”
“So this time a mastectomy would be the ‘protocol’ and a meeting was scheduled with the plastic surgeons to hear my options regarding reconstruction. It was all so overwhelming, and none of the options sounded good. After a couple of weeks of thinking and talking about my options, I made the decision and scheduled surgery for August 6.
Almost immediately after scheduling the surgery, I received a letter from the Mayo Clinic informing me, that they were not going to treat me past 90 days from the date of that letter. Again, shocked is not the word. Could this really be happening?
From the date on the letter, 90 days would barely make it past the actual surgery date. So what about my follow-up care? The letter said they would gladly send all of my records to any physician I chose and would even provide me a list of physicians in the area who would accept my insurance.
Keep in mind, that they made this decision after they had done all of the diagnosing tests and recommendations for surgery. We’re talking about a 12-hour surgery, at least one week in the hospital and a 6-8 week recovery period.”
Authorizations on the day of surgery
“The reason they were doing this? Their reason was because my insurance company, a U.S. government Medicare ‘fee-for-pay’ plan, ironically named Universal Health Care, was not being cooperative with them about getting their money.
In August, my husband and I went to Mayo for the ‘pre-op’ consultation with my surgeon. We were informed then that the insurance representative at the hospital had not been able to talk to a ‘live person’ yet at the insurance company, so they had not gotten the required pre-authorization for this $100,000 surgery. They told me, ‘It is not uncommon to get pre-authorization until the VERY DAY of surgery!'
Needless to say, we had to cancel the surgery because I can’t wait until the day of surgery to learn if it will be covered or not. And, I don’t have $100,000 to pay for this surgery.
The comforting insurance rep at the hospital said she would continue to call, even though when she has gotten through, she is immediately and automatically disconnected. She promised she would keep trying until she heard back from a ‘live person’ and could get us an answer. We still have heard nothing.”
‘Do we have a right to health?’
“So, we wait. It’s been nearly six months since the original diagnosis, and we are still waiting on the insurance company to tell us if they will cover the recommended and apparently necessary surgery. Yes or no? Either answer would help. Or just to know how long we can expect to wait for a yes or no answer, so we can plan something."
It’s all so hard to believe. I’m a tax-paying, American citizen with a faith and belief that ‘we the people’ actually care about ‘we the people.’ What has happened to our right to health?
Or, now I wonder, do we have a right to health?
Char Thomas, Sedona
"How can I do something to be part of a solution, and not just keep talking about all the problems?
I’ve decided to create an online support group for people in my situation - Right2Health.com - and I’m currently in the process of launching this Web site. I’m convinced, we have to take our health care into our own hands, whatever that entails. I am determined to help and empower others to become more pro-active and be a part of the solution.
If more of us get involved, we can make a difference! And, we cannot wait until someone we know and love is sick and facing a dilemma such as mine to do so. This is a problem that faces every one of us in one way or another, and we need everyone’s help. This is a call to action for all of us to come together and correct this problem now.
Thank you for taking on this very serious social issue that touches all American lives.”
-- Char Thomas, Sedona
[Editor's Note: Read our special report on "The Economics of Breast Cancer" here.]
Another professional without insurance
“You and my wife Char have been in touch regarding her story and your mission. Thank you for all you are doing to bring hope to so many people.
I, too, cannot afford health insurance. During my 25+ years career, I have owned my own production companies with more than 20 employees, produced international, award-winning documentaries and broadcast commercials for industry leaders. But I made a change in my priorities when my wife developed breast cancer.
I wanted to do something that helped people rather than serve the greed and egos of large companies and politicians.” -- Skip Thomas, Sedona
Deductibles render insurance worthless
“I have medical bills coming in now from my fractured ankle:
$1,100 emergency room, 1.5 hours - not yet paid
$425 paid already to orthopedic doctor; still owe him probably about another $300
I am awaiting bills from the radiologist at the hospital who read my X-rays – a private doctors’ group from doctors in the emergency room.
Even if I had health insurance, it would have been a $5,000 deductible. I would have ended up
paying for these expenses out-of-pocket anyhow.
Yes, it is time to be an advocate for health-care revision in this country!” -- T.G., Sedona
Former caregiver can't get care
I have this friend who works with autistic children as a caregiver in their homes. He and his wife have four children - and no health insurance. He had a sudden case of appendicitis that required emergency surgery and then he was released from the hospital.
He was later re-admitted after not feeling well. The doctors discovered a perforated colon that had become infected. This put him in the critical care unit for more than a week, where he received three CAT scans costing about $5,000 apiece.
He is now recuperating but unable to work. So in addition to no health care and no income, he faces more than $20,000 in medical and hospital bills. How is someone like him supposed to pay that off?
-- L.B., Village of Oak Creek
A sad state
“I'm so glad you're doing this story because the sad state of medical insurance coverage in this country is certainly an issue that can and should be examined at a local level.
I'm a working single mom with no child support and no insurance, but I'm lucky that my kids and I are covered by ACCCHS - if not, I'd have many stories to tell. The downside is that I must appear as a welfare recipient (even though I work as a local substitute teacher) in the local DES office every six months to reapply. I'm sometimes handled with respect and other times must suffer the disapproval and scrutiny from the overburdened DES caseworkers.
My coverage by state/federal resources and the peace of mind I have about unforeseen medical expenses is something that every U.S. citizen should have. It hurts my heart to see people struggling with huge health expenses that could be covered if there were a commitment to channel funds away from useless wars and into human services like health and education.
I hear many other sad stories from people with coverage about the state of HMOs and other medical providers. Insurance coverage is just part of the equation - the corrupt and powerful allopathic medical system and its henchmen, Big Pharma and the FDA, also create many problems for patients.
I'm fortunate to have a fairly responsive local medical clinic with some reasonable, dependable doctors and the osteopaths to care for my family. Many people aren't so lucky.”
-- M.F., Chino Valley
The high cost of shabby insurance
“A few years ago I had great insurance with the AFTRA-SAG unions. But then I moved to Cottonwood and no longer worked as an actor. After 18 months my COBRA ran out. Nobody told me that I could have continued that insurance until it was too late. It would have been pricey but had a $500 yearly deductible and paid 90 percent after a co-pay of about $10. It covered everything, even chiropractic.
I applied to Blue Cross of Arizona and was denied because I have been diagnosed with acid reflux, arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome. I have since found a natural way to relieve the acid reflux, have worked to alleviate the arthritis by exercise and diet and even the IBS is under better control, although I do require meds every once in awhile.
None of these conditions are life-threatening or even very expensive to treat. Yet they were the reason I was denied coverage.
I am not overweight; I have a good cholesterol count and a good lipid panel, and I exercise regularly. But none of that matters. All they see is somebody who has been diagnosed with three very ordinary conditions and they don't want me.”
Overpriced, ineffective coverage
“I wound up getting insurance from Midwest Life. In order to get this insurance, I also had to purchase, at the cost of $40 a month, their discount plan for small businesses. I am not a small business and have no use for any of the discounts involved, but I have to pay for them or they wouldn't insure me.
It is without a doubt the most overpriced and ineffective policy I could ever have imagined. For $325 a month (and it's always going up) I have no coverage for diagnostics that take place outside of my being hospitalized. So colonoscopies aren't covered, or blood tests, or mammograms or biopsies.
Not only that, because I couldn't afford the additional $50-60 a month for diagnostic coverage, the provider doesn't even have to extend the puny discounts available for these services. A few will give me the discount but an imaging center won't, nor will the local hospital.
My plan doesn't cover Celebrex at all if I purchase it at the local pharmacy and only gives a small discount if I utilize the mail-order option. The last time I checked it was about $200 for a three-month supply. The suggested price for generic drugs is higher than a pharmacy charges every day - about two times higher.
I've had several neck injuries in my lifetime and used to go to the chiropractor once a week. It isn't covered at all on my policy. I haven't been to a chiropractor in over a year.”
Insurance that's not really insurance
“Last, but certainly not least, is my deductible. I elected the $5,000 deductible because it was the only coverage I could afford. The woman who came to my house to explain the coverage neglected to tell me that the $5,000 wasn't a yearly deductible; rather, it is a per-hospital-stay deductible. I'd cancel it this minute but fear that if I got into an auto accident or was injured in a fall, I could lose everything for lack of insurance.
I don't go to the doctor unless something is terribly wrong because I just can't afford to. I would happily pay higher taxes if I knew that I could walk in to a doctor's office and be treated free of charge or know that if I was hospitalized my home wouldn't be in jeopardy.
I already pay $3,900 a year in premiums and then have to pay whatever doctor bills I rack up. Since January I've paid out over $3,000 and I haven't even been sick. I had cataract surgery on one eye, a mammogram that came back a little off and so had to be redone, had my yearly blood tests, had a cyst removed and had problems sleeping.
And the year isn't over yet. I'm at $7,000 and counting. Higher taxes would be a discount for me."
What’s wrong with this picture?
"I saw SiCKO at Harkins Cinema in Sedona and walked out of the theater feeling angry and gypped. If a poor country like Cuba can afford to take care of its citizens, why can't we? If Great Britain could institute universal health care after being bombed to smithereens during WWII, why can't we, supposedly the richest nation on the planet, guarantee decent, reliable healthcare to our citizens?
None of the countries that offer universal care have gone bankrupt because of it. Their citizens are healthier than we are. What is wrong with the people who run this country and why are they so greedy?
I hope Michael Moore is buried under the submissions. If only we had a thousand of him, think of what we could get done!” --Ann Johnson, Cottonwood
The right diagnosis could have saved my sight
‘When I was 22 ½ years old, I had a flu-like situation, with aches and pains. It got a lot worse, so I went to the emergency room. There I was told that I had a virus and was given some drugs. At this point, I'm not clear on how much time passed. I will guess and say about two days.
I got so much worse, and I again drove myself back to the emergency room. That evening I was admitted and, on the following day, I went into a coma! My mother was told that I would not make it and that maybe I would be a vegetable and perhaps remain paralyzed.
Twenty-three days later I woke up. I had encephalitis. And I was blind!!!
Today I can only find blessings from this tragedy, but did it indeed have to be this way?”
-- Rev. Sophia Bank-Daniells, Sedona
Had to call Australia for medical advice
“My husband and I recently moved back to Sedona after living in Australia for two years. We are Americans who are fortunate enough to have dual citizenship in Australia.
Upon returning from overseas, we were in Los Angeles and my husband had an accident in which a bungee cord hit him in the eye. His pupil blew up to at least twice its normal size, and we didn't know if it was a serious problem or not. No medical center would give advice over the phone except to say to come in. We don't have health insurance, so an emergency eye check-up would have cost us close to $200.
So, we ended up calling an Australian hospital to get free advice on what to do! Socialized medicine is the way to go.
Thanks for all you're doing to bring these health issues to the public.” -- Pash Galbavy, Sedona
“Last year, I paid for elective surgery to have polyps removed from my nose, which is a very normal procedure that millions of Americans have done. Because I have a very high deductible, I paid for it myself, which was about $3,500.
This year, my insurance company sent me an exclusion, saying that because of this operation (which they did not pay for), I am now no longer covered for the cost of treatment in regards to any type of growth or, the cost of any treatment for any cancer that can be traced to being related to or caused by any type of growth.
In other words, if I were to develop a cancerous tumor, I would go broke within a year. Even if I were to develop a non-cancerous tumor, it could end up costing me $50,000 or more out-of-pocket to have it removed.” -- R.A., Nashville, Tenn.
Health insurance is a waste
“As an ordained interfaith minister and property manager at the tender age of 55, I too am without health insurance. My dear sweet state of Massachusetts is doing its best to bankrupt me by forcing me into purchasing some, bless their poor misguided hearts.
It has been a full 12 years since I have seen a doctor and, unless health insurance involves coverage for alternative medicines: acupuncture, homeopathy, chiropractic, herbal, aromatherapy and dental, I really don't have need or use for it.
Why should I spend $500+ a month for something I have no need for? Dental I could use, but that is also unaffordable and comes mainly with health insurance as an added-on benefit. So I not only hear your pain; I share in it with you.
Please continue to keep putting the spotlight where it needs illumination and be part of the tipping point to reform this health-care system that is unfair and broken at best.” – Jeff Ferrannini, Boston
It can happen at any age
“My daughter can recount her $15,000 medical emergency that yielded no results and put her into credit counseling – a girl who works two jobs, goes to school full- time and was originally given a confirmation number from the insurer. Thanks for your contribution to this important story and tragedy in Middle America.” -- B.P., Cottonwood
Overpriced and overrated
“We have had good health-care coverage -- but it just went up $250 per month and now costs almost $1,000 per month. I just cancelled it and am going with a different program. $950 per month for health insurance is absurd. Stay healthy!” -- C.S., Sedona
One happy ending
“A group of us recently sponsored a fund-raising concert for our friend, a local activist, who had emergency surgery in January and ran up $75,000 in hospital bills without insurance. He didn't have insurance because he had lost his job with benefits and was teaching part-time at two (or maybe all three) of the local colleges. None of those jobs had benefits. So he put off checking on the pain in his side and ended up with a burst appendix and gangrene.
Fortunately, our hospital has a patient assistance program and ended up canceling his $67,000 bill. We did raise $2,000-3,000 on Saturday night to help pay the doctors' bills, so now Tom's debts are at least manageable. And he has a full-time job again starting in the fall. In celebration of our successful fund-raiser, our little group will go see SiCKO together as soon as we can.” -- H.L., Prescott
These people are our friends and neighbors. We must try to help them since the health-care industry has cruelly turned its back on them. In the next issue, we will post a blog so people can interact and begin the necessary dialogue, exchange ideas and hopefully offer some solutions. For now, send any suggestions for help for these cases to editor@SedonaObserver.com and we'll make sure to forward it to the right person.
READ NURSES’ AND HOSPITAL WORKERS’ HORROR STORIES
VISIT THE HEALTH CARE WORKPLACE ISSUES PAGE
SIGN THE HEALTH CARE PETITION!
SEND US YOUR HEALTH-CARE STORY HERE!
WE’LL KEEP POSTING THEM AND SENDING THEM ON TO MICHAEL MOORE AND
OUR REPRESENTATIVES IN WASHINGTON.
Watch for more stories coming in the next issue.
Courtesy of Gary Huck, Huck-Konopacki Labor Cartoons