Back in 1995, I had just started a new job and my new health insurance didn’t kick in until after 90 days. Not a day sooner. I would soon regret my decision to refuse COBRA coverage.
A little over two months into my new position, my wife began to have mysterious stomach pains and wasn’t feeling well. She thought it was just a stomach virus or something temporary. “The doctor will just send me home, tell me to keep hydrated, and wait it out,” she claimed.
After two weeks of no relief, increasing stomach pain, and a strange orange tint to her skin, I was getting very worried but I didn’t know what to do. Neither of us wanted to take her to the government run hospital downtown (it had a horrible reputation and still does) but we had no health insurance. We were both fervently hoping the problem would go away or that the pain would be bearable enough until we hit day 90.
On day 88, I received a phone call at work from my wife. “I’m about to pass out from the pain. If I do, there’s no one here to take care of the children (18 months and 4 months). I have to go to the hospital. Please come home.” I turned and told a co-worker, “I have to take my wife to the hospital,” and left.
We arrived at the emergency room of a reputable hospital (NOT the government run one) and doctors quickly figured out what was wrong: her gallbladder was completely choked with gallstones and had to be removed. I checked her in and reluctantly told the clerk that we had no insurance, still hoping that doctors could stave off the need for surgery until day 90.
She had laparoscopic surgery on day 89 to remove her gall bladder. Usually, they kept surgery patients overnight after this procedure but we were sent home before lunch the same day.
A few days later, I was asked to come to the hospital’s business office to discuss payment arrangements. When I saw the total bill, I laughed and told the hospital’s business manager, “Lady, you can take everything I own, sell it twice, and you won’t come up with that much money.” She asked me how much I could afford per month. “Probably $25 at the most,” I replied. She then asked me to fill out a personal financial statement and said she would get back with me.
I left there to go to my parent’s home for lunch. Before I had even arrived, the business manager called to tell me that an anonymous donor had paid my hospital bill. I still had to pay the doctor and the anesthesiologist, but the largest portion of my bill was paid by someone else. All these years later, I still don’t know who it was.
What I learned
- If at all possible, don’t go without health insurance, even for a short time. There are companies out there that WILL provide short term health insurance at a reasonable cost.
- Consider a small additional health insurance policy in case there are unpleasant changes to your major policy you have at work. If the unexpected happens, at least you’ll have something.
- Never be afraid to be honest with your creditors. Tell them what you can pay and then keep your word.
- Even if you have no health insurance, you can still get health care. Don’t put off going to the hospital because you’re afraid of the bill.
That was the last time I allowed my health insurance to lapse. I’ve learned to include it as part of my negotiations when offered other positions. Even if your new employer claims they “can’t” put you on their new program on day one, they CAN pay all or a portion of your COBRA premiums until you’re on the new program.
Make sure you negotiate that on the front end. You won’t regret it.