6 Insane Ways Sick People Have Tried To Get Healthcare
If a pile of old National Geographic magazines fell on you in 1995 and you have been trapped under them since, you might not know that there are problems with American healthcare. Sure, the Affordable Care Act has made things better and easier for a lot of people in America, but many others are still in dire trouble when it comes to bad health, usually because they're in that annoying category where they're too rich to qualify for Medicaid but not rich enough to buy their own insurance. Or maybe they do have insurance, but they could only afford to buy a plan like this one.
"I'm afraid your plan only covers leeches and a psychic reading for humour imbalance."
Well, good news for these unlucky souls: There are other options out there if you want a doctor to fix that broken leg or confirm the existence of that human-shaped tumor on your abdomen that whispers to you whenever you start to fall asleep. As the saying goes, "Dying of cancer is the mother of invention," which is why people have resorted to ...
I've never been to prison, but judging from what I've seen on television, it seems pretty bad. I mean, think back to what life was like for the characters on that HBO show Oz. You're stuck in an icy hellhole, men with guns are constantly coming to your door, and those goddamn moose are always- wait, I'm thinking of Alaska State Troopers. But I do definitely know one thing about prison from TV, and that's that no one would ever want to voluntarily give up their freedom and end up in a place like that. Unless they were an American and needed healthcare, that is.
Millions of bald eagles are sobbing at the irony.
At least, they might if they were James Verone. In 2011, Verone walked into a bank in Gastonia, North Carolina, and demanded the clerk hand him a dollar. When asked why he'd rob a bank for an amount of money that won't even get you a McDonald's dollar menu item anymore, Verone told police that he hadn't been able to find steady work since being laid off as a delivery driver, and desperately required surgery for his back problems, as well as someone to check out a suspicious lump growing on his chest. Since prisons in North Carolina are required to treat anyone with a chronic or emergency health problem for free, a nice three-year prison sentence would be enough to get his healthcare needs attended to.
Surgery is performed with a filed-down toothbrush, but still.
You might have noticed that this scheme sounds remarkably like the plot from Prison Break, in which a man deliberately gets himself sent to prison because his brother's snowmobile has been stolen, forcing him to hunt all his moose on- wait, sorry, that's Alaska State Troopers again. But unlike on TV, where such last-ditch, devil-may-care plans usually work out for the best, Verone received a less-serious larceny charge that carries a much shorter sentence than the three years he was hoping for. Oh well; try to rob an orphanage next time.
Standing In Line For Days
Every year after Thanksgiving, people across America line up for Black Friday deals at their local big box store. There's an approximately zero percent chance that you don't know this, because every year, the media rushes headlong to cover this story like a Walmart manager diving in to break up a fight over discounted microwaves. Here's a small selection of such stories from 2014, for example:
But there's another yearly, wait-in-line-for-days event that the media almost completely ignores. It's the Wise Fairground clinic in Virginia, run by Remote Area Medical, a charity organization that provides free medical care to people living in remote areas. The clinic lasts for three days, and patients often camp out the night before to get a place in line for treatment. One reporter who did make it to the clinic discovered 1,500 people at the gates by 5 in the morning, including a man who had traveled there on foot because he couldn't afford gas.
Why are Walmart lines a media circus and not this? It could be because articles about Americans waiting in line to get their rotten teeth pulled are less likely to get Facebook-shared by your aunt with comments attached about working-class greed and the evils of consumerism. Instead, they're more likely to just make people depressed. Or maybe journalists just don't want to drive all the way to rural Virginia. I don't know. I've never been there. The place might have alligators with bat wings.
That baby could be hiding a bunch of deadly mouth tentacles. I wouldn't know.
Joining The Military
It's no huge secret that not everyone who signs up for military service does it out of a pure patriotic sense of duty. A stint in the military is also a common way for young people to pay for college, or to get training that might lead to better jobs later. But "joining because your life sucks" isn't just for America's youngsters. Older folks occasionally do it too, and often because life has delivered them a healthcare-related kick in the groin.
Sometimes in the form of an actual kick in the groin.
See, the military offers relatively good healthcare benefits for a service member's spouse and children, and if you're willing to overlook all that "potentially going to war" stuff, it's a good way to get a sick family member reliably treated for the foreseeable future. That was the case for Bill Caudle, whose wife was diagnosed with a severe and eventually fatal form of ovarian cancer. Recently laid off from his job, Caudle opted to join the Army in 2009 at age 39 to pay for her chemo treatments, going through basic training with drill sergeants who weren't much more than half his age.
"Drop to the ground and give me 25 Taylor Swift lyrics!"
Caudle ended up stationed across the country from his ailing wife in her last years, but he doesn't regret the decision, as the treatment paid for by the military allowed her to stick around long enough to witness the birth of her first grandchild. And let's face it, that's the closest we'll come to a happy ending for a story like this, so let's go with it.
Marrying A Stranger
But let's say you're not in Virginia, and jail and/or war aren't for you. There are still other ways to quickly obtain healthcare that don't involve blackmailing a doctor using his raunchy med school pictures. A lot of healthcare benefits in the US are conferred through marriage, so why not try tying the knot with the first insurance-endowed person you meet? Sure, it involves some fraud, but who hasn't married a stranger or two just for the hell of it?
"We found this kitty in an alley, and wanted it to be raised with two parents."
This kind of fraudulent marriage is popular in the military, since, as mentioned above, service members' families usually get their healthcare paid for. That's why in 2011, two Naval shipmates were charged with "theft of government property" after they sham-married partners who then racked up thousands of dollars' worth of medical care during the time they pretended to be boning. In return for this insurance-related generosity to their fake spouses, the two sailors were able to claim the increased salaries that the military gives to its married members. Their actions sound a lot less shitty when you consider that both sailors were gay and at the time were unable to obtain that salary raise for their real partners.
"It just ain't natural. Better to just hook up with one of them lady fishes."
Between the sham marriages for insurance and the gay rights issues, that story and the many thousands like it are a big reason some people wash their hands of this whole "America" thing and end up ...
Fleeing The Country
Americans tend to be proud of the fact that foreigners come from all over the world to experience our cutting-edge medical system. For example, in 2010, the king of Saudi Arabia flew here for treatment, and he's so rich he could have easily afforded to go anywhere he liked. Guy must own like, at least two cars. Maybe three.
Guacamole is $2 extra, and he doesn't even care.
Less well known, however, is the flow of sick people in the opposite direction. Every year, so many Americans leave the country for treatment overseas that entire companies have sprung up to accommodate them. Why? Because even with travel costs included, it's cheaper than getting treatment here. A hip replacement in India costs less than $10,000, including airfare, as opposed to the $30,000 it costs in the US. A heart bypass surgery is approximately $110,000 cheaper if you have it done in Turkey. And $110,000 is almost enough to buy a whole computer. I think. I'm not very good with money.
Anyway, this "medical tourism" is now so common that some company health plans have started including an overseas treatment option for their employees, both to save themselves money and because it's easier to have a worker return to work healthy and with a tan rather than showing up sobbing over the $5,000 copay they now owe.
Related: The 5 Most Secretly Badass Countries
Asking The Internet
If the other options on this list haven't worked out for you, you might have no choice but to take your chances asking for charity from strangers on the Internet. Sure, this option seems easier than going to jail or joining the Army, but this is the Internet we are talking about.
"This guy wrote 'less expenses' instead of 'fewer expenses' in his plea for money. I'm going to tell him he deserves his testicular cancer."
For an example of how stressful dealing with Internet-sourced charity can be, take Luis Lang, an uninsured man from South Carolina who recently appealed for money on the crowdfunding site GoFundMe after discovering that his diabetes was about to cause him to go blind. The plea caught the attention of the media after it was discovered that Lang was a Republican who had expressed sentiments against the Affordable Care Act. After that, his page quickly took off. Multiple ACA-supporting internet denizens decided that the "saying awful things relating to healthcare" category had been dominated too much by the conservative side lately, and decided to chip with in their own thoughts:
Hear that? You held a different opinion than these people, and now you're going blind! Hahahaha.
Luckily, not everyone is terrible, and Mr. Lang has now almost reached his funding goal, with donations largely coming from liberals who don't want to be associated with the other liberals on the site making fun of an almost-blind dude. But many other funding attempts that aren't receiving attention from political commentators are still out there: "Medical, Illness & Healing" is GoFundMe's most popular category. Keep in mind, we're not talking only about people with no health insurance -- many of those money pleas are from people with supposedly good insurance who simply can't afford their plan's copays and deductibles. So, uh, try not to get sick.