Two months before we left Madison, I found myself on the phone trapped in an infinite loop of button pressing, trying to secure health insurance for my time in Florida:
“If you are a new patient interested in starting a health insurance plan, press one,” the recording said. “If you have existing health care coverage with us, press two. If you would like to speak to a real live, compassionate human being who understands the health care system better then a bonobo chimp, please hang up and try the country of Canada.
Canada wasn’t an option, so I diligently listened to my selections, pressed the appropriate buttons, then when I seemed to have been funneled to a real person I was put on hold for twenty five extra minutes, left to listen to a Muzak rendition of “Born in the USA”.
Finally after my brain felt like it was about to catch on fire, someone came on the line. Still with Bruce Springsteen in my head I explained I was self employed, moving to Florida, and in need of health care.
His response was straight forward, but not comforting. “You will need to move here first and establish residency before we can begin the process.”
“Okay…” I said trying a yoga breath to keep myself calm. “I understand that I need to wait, but can I just go through your underwriters to be sure I’ll be accepted? I don’t want to get down there and be without insurance.”
“No. You must first establish residency. But don’t worry. You’ll get in.” At that point I believe he hung up to go eat a banana or groom his co-workers.
When I arrived in Florida two months later, I established residency right away, then got on the phone again. I pressed the obligatory twenty buttons on my phone, listened now to Aerosmith-lite for half an hour and eventually heard the voice of a real, live human.
The woman seemed cordial enough. She asked for my health history and I obliged. Then I waited as she left me on hold to—I presume–do some secret calculations on super computer in a back room. After waiting another fifteen minutes she returned to give me the blow:
“I’m sorry m’am. Given your health history, we cannot cover you.”
Unfortunately, her computers—no matter how super–did not approve of my bipolar diagnosis.
I told the woman: “But I am healthy. I eat well. I get good sleep. I need to see a doctor, maybe five times a year to manage my meds. I’m Miss Goody Two Shoes of the Manic Depressive community. Come on…please?”
But she would not give. Apparently insurance companies are terrified of us crazy folk—no matter our condition. We apparently make high demands on the medical system. Straitjackets and padded rooms won’t pay for themselves, you know.
Trying anything to get her to change her mind I told her that I like to see myself as a member of the high functioning bipolar elite (that doesn’t sound manic, does it?). Most people who know me never realize that I take a handful of meds each night to keep my head on straight.
“I’m sorry m’am there’s nothing I can do.” She was right. The system doesn’t care that I run four times a week to help keep me balanced, or that I chart my moods each night to keep an eye on my health. According to the spreadsheets and computer calculations I was just a very expensive nut case. I hung up the phone, completely devastated.
After a lot of other calls to a lot of other insurance agencies with their own breeds of Muzak, and the same excuses, I resolved I would go for six months without coverage and then would begin the Florida state heath care plan (which ridiculously only takes you if you’ve been without care for six months).
Though it felt a little unnerving going without insurance, I was honestly very happy to be free of the bureaucratic system. My next task was to find a medical professional to help keep me on track with my meds. Who knew this next part would be so challenging…