This morning, like many mornings, Penelope and I decided that we needed to wake Daddy up a bit early and go get a doughnut. There was a chocolate-covered, cream-filled pastry calling my name loudly and insistently from afar. In an attempt to combine business with pleasure, I suggested that we all stop by Walgreens on the way to get our treat and pick up one of my monthly prescriptions – a prescription, incidentally, that I have bought from Walgreens every month for nearly seven years. Because Dustin recently switched jobs, we are relying on a Cobra insurance plan to get us through the next couple of months. Our coverage began on December 1st, and though we haven’t received our first bill, Blue Cross assured us that all coverage would be retroactive.
We pulled up to the window at the drive-thru Pharmacy and casually gave my name to the young, bored-looking clerk. Then we turned out attention to Penelope, who was throwing a fit in the back seat because – apparently – she was not digging the smooth tones of a Wham!-era George Michael. While assuring our daughter that “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” is not necessarily a cause for weeping, we realized that the clerk was saying something.
“Do you realize that your insurance has expired?”
She managed to instill those words with what I felt was an unwarranted amount of venom, but I like to think the best of people. Maybe she’s just mad that she has to reenter my insurance number, I thought. Dustin explained that we had recently transferred to a Cobra plan and handed her my old insurance card.
“This is expired,” she repeated coldly after a cursory glance. “I’m going to have to call them.”
That wasn’t the greatest news, because Penelope had started to call out shrilly for a sprinkled doughnut, but it wasn’t the end of the world, either. I don’t mind waiting very much, and we were in no particular hurry (well, the adults weren’t, anyway).
After seven or eight minutes, the pharmacy clerk hung up the phone and activated the speaker once more.
“Your plan expired on November 30th,” she said flatly.
Dustin explained again that our Cobra had kicked in on December 1st and would be retroactively applied to all purchases.
“Your insurance is expired” she repeated, “I can tell you about our discount programs for uninsured customers.”
At this point, we were cold, antsy, and desperately in need of fried, round pastries. Penelope the music critic, having exiled Wham!, was now petitioning for an immediate cease to all Led Zepplin and Rush. Things were getting tense.
“We’ll just pay for it out-of-pocket,” I said, “How much?”
She named the price in a skeptical tone, evidently thinking that people like us – you know, uninsured slobs – must also be broke. We paid her quickly and drove away, both of us feeling vaguely upset.
I don’t know what has happened to make our society rely on something like a small plastic card to determine a person’s character or trustworthiness. But I found out today that it is a bigger problem than I had previously thought. The thing that bothers me most is that I might have actually been uninsured and received that treatment. I have been a loyal customer of Walgreens for over 15 years, the kind of customer that gets 8 or 9 chronic prescriptions every month. Even if I was broke or uninsured, I would deserve better treatment than that. I deserve to be spoken to without contempt or disrespect.
I’ve been lucky enough to have great insurance for most of my adult life. For the entire eight-year span of my marriage, Dustin has worked for companies famous for offering comprehensive insurance coverage to full-time and part-time employees. Providing insurance to hourly workers is a sure sign that a company values the inherent human dignity of those workers, something that both Starbucks and Burgerville realized a long time ago. When Dustin and I were researching a possible move to Burgerville this fall, we came across a case study on the chain that had been performed by a group at Portland State University. Though the study was a great source of information on all of Burgerville’s somewhat radical policies, one thing in particular stood out to me. The researchers interviewed a few actual employees of the company – burger-flippers and counter workers, mostly – one of whom claimed that Burgerville had given them something much more valuable than a job. “You wouldn’t believe how differently people treat you when you have an insurance card,” he said.
Something is very broken in our healthcare system – in our society as a whole – when human beings are given better medical care simply because they appear to be able to pay for it. I don’t have a solution to this problem, but I think that we all need to get our heads together and figure it out, soon. I’ll bring the doughnuts. Who’s with me?