This piece is reposted with permission from Costs of Care, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Boston, which has as its mission expanding the national discourse on the role of doctors, nurses, and other care providers in health care spending, while empowering providers with the information they need to deflate medical bills on a grassroots level.
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By Cindy Fox
My right eye had a blackout in September 2010 when I stepped onto our deck. I didn’t pay much attention to this episode as my vision zoomed back into focus within seconds. But several months later, my eye was playing tricks with me when the only way I could read was with my right eye closed.
Back in 1981, I had lupus though I didn’t know it at the time. My first symptom was blurry vision in my right eye. A visual field test, among others, determined I had optical neuritis. A three-week dose
of prednisone, a cheap and effective drug, corrected my distorted vision. So when blurry vision popped up in the same eye three decades later, my first thought was lupus may be poking me in the eye.
Lupus nearly killed me in 1998 when this auto-immune disease viciously attacked not one, not two, but three organs. Yes, I got the trifecta and my kidneys came in first when my body ballooned with thirty-five pounds of a water weight. Lasix, a powerful diuretic, worked on race horses but, unfortunately, not for me. The doctor’s solution to rid my severe edema was weekly trips to the hospital to remove the water intravenously. To me, that wasn’t a remedy; it was a bandage.
I scheduled an appointment at the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion. My SED rate was 117, so I was asked to come in right away. They prescribed a different diuretic that shed nine pounds of water per day. Their thorough compilation of my health history also determined that my optical neuritis in 1981 had been my first lupus flare-up.
I’m thankful I was working back then and my insurance covered my health claims during my one-year battle with lupus nephritis. But little did I know that I’d be labeled with a pre-existing health condition.
Now I’m unemployed and health insurance companies don’t bat an eye at my applications. Though most of them denied me coverage due to my auto-immune disease, one company stated my prescription costs were too high. That surprised me as my total annual expenditure for drugs was under $100.
So, my only option is to pay high premiums for my state’s health insurance plan.
With no money coming in, I opted for their $10,000 deductible plan with lower premiums to keep my head above water. The money saved is set aside to pay my medical costs. I take extra care with my body, eating healthy foods and exercising regularly, but lupus hides in my body where nobody can see. My chances are high for another catastrophic health condition and now I wonder if lupus is peeking through my blurry right eye.
After six visits to my eye doctor in the less than two years, he says my eye is healthy except for some mild inflammation due to my Sjogren’s Syndrome, a severe dry eye condition I’ve had most of my life. So far, I’ve paid over $2000 for a doctor to tell me something I already know. Oh, how I wish I could afford a trip to Mayo Clinic for a second opinion.
At my last appointment, I asked if we could go back to yearly eye exams that are required because I take Plaquenil for my lupus which can damage the eyes. I told my eye doctor I pay all my medical costs and less visits sure would help my bank account. No, he wants to see me in another six months. For what, I ask myself? Does the big healthcare giant that employs him want more of my money? They’ll get it regardless should I choose a second opinion nearby as they’ve gobbled up all the small healthcare clinics in my area.
With one eye open, I can read between the lines. I see a full-blown love affair between big healthcare and big insurance companies. I wonder if Obamacare’s oversight will bring them out of the closet where we all can see them naked and running for something to cover them up. Or, will their coupling be seen as a strategic alliance to better serve one-eyed fools like me?
As I write this essay with my right eye closed, I think I’ll turn a blind eye to my upcoming eye appointment. The cost of another eye exam will buy two year’s worth of soothing eye drops. Drops that will replace the tears my eyes are unable to shed as I weep for someone who really cares about looking deeper into my eye.
Cindy Fox, now retired from a career managing Homeland Security compliance at a Twin Cities company, will be eligible for Medicare benefits in two years. After forty years paying into the Medicare system, she hopes for a good return on her investment.