Things are rosy when you’re on the market. First dates are exciting. Soon you begin to message each other at all hours of the day. You can’t focus on work. But ultimately, the reality of settling down hits one of you harder than the other. Someone’s liable to end up with a broken heart.
Shopping for health insurance is exactly the same.
At first, the world is full of possibilities. Your friends even suggest setting you up with their own insurers. The internet is full of eligible companies, and all it takes is a phone call and they fall all over themselves. But you’re shopping around — plenty of companies are interested.
Eventually, a policy catches your eye and you begin to spend more time with it. When you’re supposed to be working, you stare off into space thinking about the deductible. A couple thousand dollars out of pocket is a lot of money, but, just like a bad relationship, it sounds better than ending up in the hospital on your own.
So I admit I was getting pretty hot and heavy with this one insurance company. I spoke on the phone with a Pennsylvania agent named Johnny Johnson. I shared my health history and budget. He was interested. He began calling me every day.
Not to mention the e-mails. For about two weeks, I got a message every day. “Don’t Delay. This Quote Won’t Last!” they said. “Now you just need to complete the online application! It’s fast, and it’s easy!”
Just like in a doomed relationship, the lies were creeping in — like the pretty talk that’s only meant to get you into bed.
There are many words to describe the paperwork for enrolling in a new insurance plan. “Fast” and “easy” are not among them.
Finally I bit the bullet. I put aside the afternoon’s work and opened the online application.
The hours that followed were the first real test of the nascent relationship. Clicking little “yes” or “no” circles to indicate that I don’t use tobacco and rarely drink was easy and even kind of fun — like those early conversations when you start learning about each other in a genial, general sense.
But how long does it take until you have to answer for something more complicated, leaving yourself open to all kinds of messy implications?
When exactly was that dermatologist appointment I had back in 2009?
Was it the back spasms that had me in the ER on a Sunday in the summer of 2010?
What was the dosage of those muscle relaxers from last Christmas?
What day approximately 25 years ago did the symptoms of my chronic but non-life-threatening medical condition, known as interstitial cystitis, begin?
I sprained my ankle on 4th of July weekend last year. There was the Great Strep Throat Case of March ’09. And there’s my history of mild depression. You want exact dates of symptom onset and conclusion, doctors’ names, addresses, phone numbers, prescriptions and recommended treatments for all of those?
Did any doctor, ever, in the history of the world, recommend any additional treatment to you for any of these conditions or anything that might possibly have been related to these conditions?
I began to realize I was in over my head, but, worse than that, it was a reminder that something awful could happen at any minute. I needed that insurance.
The application process, which took several hours over two days, left me shaken and drained while my work piled up. When I submited it, the resulting screen showed a joyous pack of kids in caps and gowns. “Congratulations!” it said. “Your application has been submitted.”
We had taken our relationship to a whole new level.
Then I got another e-mail: the “we need to talk” that every lover dreads.
The underwriters were baffled by my interstitial cystitis diagnosis. Just as if I were dealing with an aggravated but inscrutable partner, I was forced to turn to a third party to hash things out.
So, right in the middle of another workday, I spent 40 minutes on the phone with one of the insurance company’s nurse practitioners.
The nurse couldn’t even pronounce interstitial cystitis. She was like that friend who knows no better than I do what’s troubling the relationship, but who wants to appear helpful. She looked it up in her medical dictionary and read the symptoms out loud.
Johnny congratulated me by phone on having submitted the application, and things weren’t so bad. Sure, I’ve got my problems. But I’m not pregnant and I don’t have cancer, heart disease, suicide attempts or diabetes. It’s like when your relationship is on the rocks, but no-one’s done anything unforgiveable.
That night, the final blow was terse and merciless.
Status: Declined. Reason: Medical conditions.
In truth, relationships between us and the insurance companies aren’t complicated: in richness and in health, ’til ailing breath do us part. Heaven help me now.