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Commentary Relays Edition

Bankruptcy or brown bread? the healthcare system is crooked

Trainee Epipen Photo by Maria Heath | Staff Writer

Nov. 23, 2021: I went to the hospital because someone served me something I can’t have.

Aug. 26, 2022: I went to the hospital because someone served me something I can’t have.

March 30, 2023: I went to the hospital because someone served me something I can’t have.

I am incredibly grateful to live in an area of the country where immediate healthcare is available to me. Both my hometown and Des Moines have multiple hospitals within minutes of me.

I am even more grateful to the medical staff who kept me calm and safe during my anaphylaxis allergic reactions. They worked quickly while comforting the part of me that instantly becomes a scared little kid when my health is in danger. One nurse stayed 20 minutes past the end of her shift because she cared.

If it weren’t for the wonderful doctors and nurses who helped save my life, it’s possible I wouldn’t be here to write this article.

That being said, the United States healthcare system is screwed up.

Three hospital visits in two years for emergency allergic reactions is expensive. I’m lucky to have health insurance, but for those who don’t, the bill that comes with an ER visit is scarier than the diagnosis itself.

Even with health insurance, trips to the hospital in the United States cause a lot of headaches.

I was still fighting the insurance company over an ambulance bill for my August 2022 allergic reaction when I had my allergic reaction at the end of March 2023. My insurance company deemed my ambulance ride “not medically necessary.”

For context, I am so allergic to dairy and eggs that I suffer from anaphylaxis in response to something as little as cross-contamination. I can’t breathe, I break out in hives and I vomit because my body can’t get efficient blood flow to my abdomen.

Without medical care as soon as possible after eating my allergens, I could DIE, and the insurance company doesn’t see that as cause enough to determine my ambulance ride medically necessary.

An emergency room nurse scolded me for not calling an ambulance during this past reaction. I rambled on about the cost, and she further chastised me for risking my life because I asked a friend to drive me. I knew the risk to my health, but I also knew the risk to my finances.

How can we have come so far as a nation that we have the Internet at our fingertips and yet can’t offer access to healthcare without devastating (purse)strings attached?

Nonprofit newsroom ProPublica recently broke a story that the insurance company Cigna Healthcare was using artificial intelligence and computer code to mass accept or mass deny medical claims based on diagnosis codes. In 2021, almost 50 million claims were denied, and less than 0.2% of patients appealed their denials.

This isn’t just about my ambulance bill. Cigna has denied sleep disorder tests, vitamin D deficiency tests and nerve function tests. While not necessarily life-threatening, these tests are looking for conditions that do affect patients’ quality of life.

The fact that Cigna doesn’t care enough to have a real human take the time to review each case and make a decision over whether someone’s trip to the ER was “medically necessary” says a lot about how much the American healthcare system values human life.

To the system as a whole, we’re cogs in the machine with a price tag attached. The less they have to pay for you to get better, the better off they are.

I sure hope someone has a solution to this problem because I don’t. But the inevitable next time I go to the emergency room, I would love to spend more time thanking the doctors and nurses taking care of me instead of worrying about how much the trip is going to cost.

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