Does Lack of Health Insurance Compromise Emergency Medical Care?

6 years ago

It just so happens that I'm not one of the lucky ones; the ones with health insurance. The ones who can actually see a doctor when they're sick, and not have to worry themselves sick about money if they need surgery or hospitalization. This pretty much sucks, but I'm a healthy person. I rarely get sick. I don't need any prescription medications.

But recently, I had a bit of a scare. A scare that resulted in my husband calling 911 because he thought I was having a stroke or a seizure. My whole body went numb, I couldn't control my movements, my hands were paralyzed, and my legs were going crazy. Fortunately, by the time the paramedics arrived, the episode was beginning to pass. After checking my vitals and spending a few minutes with me, they gave my husband the okay to drive me to the emergency room so we could avoid the expense of an ambulance ride.

After spending several hours in the emergency room with nothing more than a blood test, a urine test, an EKG, and some IV fluids, I was dismissed with discharge papers stating "dizzy spell - cause unknown" and instructions to drink more water and try not to stand up too quickly.  My brother-in-law, a trauma nurse at a different hospital, told my husband not to let them discharge me without a CT scan. (Background: A similar incident happened to me back in November, which didn't get nearly as intense, and I didn't do anything about it, primarily because of the no insurance thing. My brother-in-law was particularly concerned this was a progressive situation). However, the nurse blew me off saying that since my symptoms were not presenting while I was in their care, they couldn't do anything else for me. This was confusing to me since a seizure or mini-stroke passes within minutes, so naturally would not be presenting by the time I got to the hospital. The doctor said no one was on staff at that time to do an MRI, and I should follow up with my personal doctor in a day or two to get the testing I need.

Oh, you mean the testing that costs thousands of dollars but no one will do for me without an upfront payment? That testing?

Would this whole incident have played out quite differently if I had health insurance? Although we were reassured by the nurse that all patients receive equal care, I suspect that if I was an insured patient, I would have been admitted until the following day so the proper testing could be done. Or, as I'm told is common, an on-call employee would have been called in to do the tests that night.

I'm feeling frustrated and scared. Thankfully, my husband was home when this episode happened to me, and I wasn't alone with my youngest children. But if it happens again, I might not be so lucky. And it might be worse or last longer. Maybe it's nothing or maybe it's something major. Either way, I need to find out. However, I'm going to have to jump through hoops in order for that to happen. And if I had insurance, I might already know.


Alysia blogs about family life, parenting and other stuff at Michigal.

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