Health care blues…
‘Twas a nice day yesterday in the mountains. It was warm and breezy. A bright, sunny day. Mr. Wren needed to go down the mountain to the VA Medical Center and pick up a prescription they’d neglected to mail. As I’m still unemployed and without health insurance, I went with him so I could turn in an application for medical care through the VA, myself. And it seemed like a good day to put the top down on the old Celica, hit the road and cultivate the windblown look.
We made the long drive, getting off the freeway as soon as we could so we could enjoy the country roads. All around were miles and miles of yellow-grass hills, dotted with rocky outcroppings like bones jutting out of the earth and huge, spreading oak trees, cattle, blue sky and the occasional meadowlark or red-winged blackbird song slipping by on the wind.
When we arrived at the medical center in the busy Sacramento suburbs, Mr. Wren ambled over to the pharmacy to wait on his prescription and I found my way to the VA Medical Eligibility office to turn in my paperwork.
Now, I’m not sick. But I do have rheumatoid arthritis, and a couple of years back, had to have surgery on my right wrist to remove panus in the joint that was building up and which eventually, would have seriously impaired that wrist and hand. The surgery was successful and I healed without issues. But the doc warned me that the condition could recur. I’d thought the RA was in remission – I’ve not had serious pain from it for quite a few years now (knock on wood). But he told me that even though I wasn’t having pain, the RA was still there, doing its slow, ugly work. Thus, the panus buildup and the need for surgical intervention. He also told me that the panus could recur in that joint –or in another. No way to know, really.
It’s the luck of the draw. I left his office feeling confident that I’d be fine, but if the stuff came back, there would be a solution. I had medical insurance.
But recently, I’ve begun having pain in that same wrist. It zings me when I turn it just so or if I try to use that hand to lift something heavy. I catch myself favoring it without thinking. Sometimes it aches and swells. When it does, I take ibuprofen, light incense to whichever god is listening, and hope it will go away. So far, that’s worked.
But I’m a wee bit concerned, I’ll admit. The panus appeared quickly and without pain or warning, last time. And now I don’t have medical insurance. Since the job hunt is not going swimmingly, I decided to apply for medical benefits through the Veterans Adminstration. As an honorably discharged vet, this was something I was promised – that my country would provide me with medical care through the VA if I was in financial need.
I never expected the care to be free. I’m not a disabled vet. So I figured I’d have a premium and a co-pay – but in the affordable range. I saw falling back on the VA as a stopgap measure, something to hold me until I find a job that comes with reasonable health insurance.
Well, my wrist and I are just going to have to tough it out. My application was turned down in minutes. Why? Because in 2003, the “cap” eligibility incomes for vets applying for VA medical benefits were lowered drastically. To my great surprise, I make too much money.
Or rather, I did. They use the previous year’s gross income for their eligibility caps. In 2006, during the 11 months I worked, I made more than the new cap for my category of veteran, which is roughly $28,000.
This is … well, ironic. Small-town journalists, even editors, will never see the inside of a brand-spanking-new Mercedes sportster on their salaries. Mr. Wren and I drive cars that were new back when Bush 1 and Bill Clinton was President. When I was laid off last November, my salary had finally, after 9 years and some months, grown to the point that I was making just enough to pay the bills, buy the groceries and have a little left over each month for a book or two from Amazon.
But it wasn’t a heck of a lot more than that $28,000 cap.
The woman behind the counter in the eligibility office was kind and sympathetic. She told me to come back next January and try again. Since my income now consists only of unemployment insurance checks, if I don’t find work I’ll easily come in under the cap.
So I guess in the meantime, I’ll just keep on being careful of that wrist, treat it gently, take ibuprofen, use icepacks and a wrist brace when it bothers me, and hope. And hope. And hope … that I stay healthy and my wrist doesn’t blow up before I can find another job and get health insurance again.
It sort of put a damper on the nice day, you know?