What Happens If You Go To The Emergency Room Without Health Insurance
As one of 44 million Americans with no health insurance, on Saturday I was in such pain I was willing to pay out of pocket exactly what my (minimal?) Emergency Room expenses would be — but since they would not say ahead of time the cost, I left the ER, untreated and in agony. That seemed better than being socked later with an unfair bill for thousands of dollars of unnecessary add-ons and inflated prices.
If the U.S. government wanted to help its people, wouldn’t it end the PROFIT in healthcare so the patient could get care at the lowest, bottom-line, ACTUAL cost? I am neither Democrat nor Republican but support the Dem idea of universal healthcare and also like Trump’s recent executive order which stated, “insurers would have to give estimates to patients on out-of-pocket costs before they go in for nonemergency medical care.” https://khn.org/news/trump-administration-seeks-more-health-care-cost-details-for-consumers/
Trump’s order would significantly cut costs for those who have time to shop ahead, like for a new hip, but would not help in emergencies with heart attacks or broken legs, or strep throat or gonorrhea or whatever was killing my throat. There I was in the emergency room, asking for an estimate. Why couldn’t they have an open file listing what people came in for and what it cost them?
Saturday, July 20, I was in excruciating throat pain and went to the Cedar Glen Mountains Community Hospital emergency room. Never before had I gone to an ER. I usually stayed as far away from hospitals as possible, well aware the third leading cause of death is the USA is medical errors. https://www.cnbc.com/2018/02/22/medical-errors-third-leading-cause-of-death-in-america.html
In hushed words to keep my pain down, I explained to the young, wide-eyed long-haired Latino receptionist that I was normally a perfectly healthy 57 year-old man who did not have health insurance.
True I used to be a soap opera star playing Phillip Chancellor III on The Young and the Restless (who had cheap insurance years ago through SAG/AFTRA when I booked enough roles)…
…true I have 10 books out (sounds like substantial wealth but they’re self-published — and after I paid a book publicist $6,000 to launch Young, Gay & Restless in November, I only made about $6,000 on it so far)…
…………………………BOOKS HERE: https://www.thombierdz.com/
…true I co-founded and preside over www.AmericanArtAwards.com(awarding 25 galleries and 300 artists annually) — but I am self-employed mainly painting portraits for people who see my art on Facebook so I simply can not afford expensive health insurance.
I explained to the emergency room receptionist, “I need help for my throat. It is excruciating to swallow. What do you do when someone comes here with no insurance?”
She paused uncomfortably.
I continued, “Is your free clinic still next door?”
I looked toward another building which I visited seven ago when I had painful urination, (and found out I did not have gonorrhea [then]). Used to getting that free test in Los Angeles, I was nevertheless thrilled a gay man could get that in the not-gay-at-all mountains. Since I only had health insurance a few years, off and on, in my 28 years in Hollywood, and was a bit promiscuous (but more neurotic) I went to free clinics there every year — grateful to be leaving with HIV negative results each time and once, penicillin (shhh).
“Oh that free clinic closed years ago,” she said.
I gulped, and felt like I was swallowing two dozen razor blades. The severe pain had been consistent over a week now. YouTube videos offered holistic remedies and I HAD been periodically squeezing neck pressure points as well as painfully-swallowing bites with garlic, cayenne pepper, turmeric — and drinking lemon, ginger tea with honey. As I debated giving her these details, I decided not to, as I’d need to over-explain with a footnote that vegans aren’t supposed to consume honey… and, if I confessed that, why not whisper that twice in the last month I guiltily took a forkful of tuna while preparing it for my dogs…
Just the facts, I told myself. So I whispered, “A Facebook friend said if you don’t have insurance, the ER will take you for $100 cash?”
“No, never heard that.”
“What do you do when someone comes in with no health insurance?” My eyes watered.
“We see everyone,” she smiled. “We will see you.”
My face completely relaxed, “Oh, thank you! Thank you!”
She handed me a form, but I was still confused, “So you do this for free or what?
“No, you will be charged.”
“Charged what? How much? Like a few hundred dollars? Or — what — thousands??”
“We do not know how much.”
I pushed back the form, remembering how ten years ago I accompanied a boyfriend to a Los Angeles ER on a Saturday, who was concerned he was having a heart attack. He was not, but they held him all weekend and he later received a bill over $100,000.
“I can’t afford the add-ons or mark-ups,” I said. “Can’t you just give me a shot — like the free clinics gave me before? They gave it to me free — why can’t you guys just charge me the cost of what an antibiotic shot or pill and a test would be? Like $70?”
She did not answer. She and I both were all too familiar with the overcharges rampant in the greedy medical system today.
“Maybe I’ll come back,” I said, feeling cut to the core, there, and in my throat. I rose, “I’ll try to tough it out, maybe come back Monday.”
Defeated, I drove from Cedar Glen past the beautiful Lake Arrowhead Village peninsula, where I daily walked my dogs, and to the next town, Blue Jay, which had the mountain’s only Rite-Aid. A large female African-American employee with braces and short hair kindly suggested I buy Chloraseptic MAX throat spray to numb the mouth, Extra-Strength Tylenol with Aceaminophenan and Throat Coat tea.
They did help. My pain was reduced 20%.
— but later, at night, it became unbearable again and so I pet my dogs as I sat, my face frozen, surfing YouTube videos on how people deal with chronic pain. “I cannot afford a doctor,” repeated in my head, “I have to fix this myself. And I will. There is no other option.”
But still in pain, Saturday night when the mountain was asleep I dug through my cabinets and found an old dusty Vicodin to help my pain of liposuction ten years ago. Still in agony, I reached for my LAST RESORT — a small plastic bottle of pills with red tape around it and an ‘A’ written in black marker. This precious container had only 2 Ambien left from my days of insurance. Though I was still an insomniac, I had been saving these Ambien for an absolute emergency. I took the Ambien and Vicodin, and although I champion holistic over allopathic medicine, I was thrilled to have allopathic medicine that Saturday night. It was the best sleep I had in years and I only recall waking up twice in 8 hours (usually about 20 times).
When I did have insurance ten years ago, I used to to get prescriptions for Ambien, and also testosterone pills since I was low-T (most men my age are). Since then, I have discovered natural remedies for insomnia like EMDR https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/emdr-what-is-it#1 and I get testosterone from a pine pollen tincture I make myself from nearby trees.
ObamaCare helped some people — and hurt others. It hurt me. Although I voted for Obama twice, his healthcare program would have cost me about $280 a month plus deductible. In hindsight, I would have paid about $20,000 for ObamaCare which I never needed or used. Instead he fined me a penalty for not being able to afford the product he was selling — so I paid hundreds instead of thousands… SPOILER ALERT: The U$A health care $y$tem is about making profit$ for greedy and unethical corporation$, not for healing $ick citizen$.
Sunday morning I felt so much better, the pain when I swallowed was minimal, and I will keep up the garlic, cayenne, turmeric — and ginger lemon tea — with honey. (shh).
Here’s the thing. The herbs did not stop my excruciating pain. The emergency room did not (but maybe would have for like $16,000??). The Rite-Aid products did not. What worked was the prescription pills I had saved from years ago when I did have insurance.
In a different country, the emergency room would have taken me in, examined me, and given me these pills and charged me what their bottom line was — like $20 for pills and $50 for the exam. Not $16,000 or $160,000 which is probably the more typical USA bill. That is my point.
Big Pharma’s lobbyists continue to bribe our American politicians to push laws which help them, not we citizens. I am so embarrassed for America that this is how it treats its citizens in pain.
I am fine. I will be fine. I am always fine. I love my life. This isn’t about me. This is really about the other 44 million people with no health insurance — who have REAL emergencies — who lose an arm or a leg — who will be turned away from the emergency room — or charged an arm and a leg.
What do they have to stand on?
I paint portraits. www.ThomBierdz.com