I met with a young  woman who had questions about insurance. Four months ago she started feeling a little dizzy and her ability to think clearly slowed down. This worried her because she was a part-time, but mostly unemployed computer consultant whose job was to fix complex problems for corporate clients. She proudly confided she typed 100 hundred words a minute with 98 percent accuracy. The morning she couldn’t type 20 words in two was the day she knew something was terribly wrong. She couldn’t get words out of her mouth. Her husband commented, “Honey, the left side of your face is drooping.” They rushed to the nearest emergency room. The doctors thought she was having a transient ischemic attack (TIA), but weren’t sure because she was so young, exceedingly healthy, didn’t smoke or drink and wasn’t overweight. The ER docs needed to do a CAT scan. She was asked if she had insurance. That would be no. My patient was then informed the charge for the scan would be about $3000. The urgent, potentially life saving CAT scan was politely refused. 

At home the couple did an exhaustive computer search for the cheapest CAT scan. They did exactly as some health care reformers had advised: shop around for the best health care deal. For gods sake go to the website “Price Grabber” and compare prices. They might even have a coupon. Come on! Get a deal on that brain scan! Why pay more? No matter the arteries in your brain might be about to blow or bleed out, or you may lose the ability to use half of your body – find the least expensive CAT scan in the metro Chicago area. Don’t contribute to the high cost of health care in this country. 

The woman’s husband drove her to the County ER a few days later. You see –  there is no affordable CAT scan for the uninsured.

The patient said with gratitude in her voice: “I came to County because I knew they would take care of me.”

I hear these exact words consistently from my uninsured patients: “I came to County because I knew they would take care of me.”

This story has a happy ending. The patient suffered minimal, short-term effects from the TIA and the delay in care, and is on her way back to typing 100 words a minute.