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Lifelong Engineer Retired without Health Insurance

By Juan D., Alachua County

I worked as a civil engineer for 22 years and had health insurance for all those years. However, I lost my insurance when I retired. I am 57 years old so I do not qualify for Medicare yet, and although I do not have an income like I did before, I do not meet the criteria for Medicaid. I explored the insurance Marketplace to see if I could find a plan that was feasible for me, but none of the options were affordable. I believe the cheapest plan offered to me was like $600 per month, and I could not afford that. Thankfully, I never really experienced major medical problems throughout my life. I hadn’t seen a doctor for about 10 years, but now at 57 years old, I came to need different kinds of medical exams, like a prostate exam. I found out very quickly that the cost of health services without insurance is outrageous.

I got married right before the COVID-19 pandemic started, so at that point it was now my wife, my daughter, and I who did not have any form of insurance. I thought to myself, “What are we going to do without health insurance?” Around that time, someone thankfully told me that the University of Florida offered health services through the Equal Access Clinic for people without insurance. I started to go to the clinic around January 2021 due to concerns about diminished urinary flow. Coincidentally, my wife was experiencing issues with kidney stones around this time as well, so we started visiting the clinic together.

On the administrative side, the staff at the Equal Access Clinic are always so nice and well-mannered-- the way they treat you is impeccable. It has been helpful to be able to see doctors for our medical issues there, but we have also experienced the downsides of being uninsured and having to depend on free health services. For example, we have to wait around 4 hours just to see the doctor at each appointment. We’ve been to the clinic a minimum of 10 times already, and each time we’ve had to see a different doctor. Every new doctor is unaware of what the previous doctor did, and we have to re-explain our medical histories and situations each time. On top of that, we’ve found that each new doctor has a different opinion of what is going on. Moreover, when I had a prostate exam completed and prostate issues were ruled out, the doctor ordered that I get an ultrasound done. However, imaging services are not free and there was no avenue for me to be able to pay for the exam at a reduced price. Furthermore, I’ve experienced issues obtaining my prescriptions. When I went to the pharmacy to pick up one of my medications, I found out it was $1200, whereas the generic medication was around $40. I ended up having to go back to the clinic to get the prescription redone so that I could obtain the generic brand. My wife, despite the amount of times she has been to the clinic, still does not have any clarity as to what exactly is going on with her kidney issues. So all in all, my family and I have felt discouraged enduring this process as uninsured individuals because we know that things would be very different if we had insurance and were able to receive consistent medical care from one doctor.

With or without insurance, however, it seems to me that there is a bigger problem going on with our country’s health care system. My parents are both 78 and have coverage through Medicare. From what I’ve been able to observe, it just doesn’t feel like they are receiving thorough health care from their medical professionals. For example, my mother has been experiencing coughing symptoms for several years, and her doctor has still not found out what is wrong with her. The last thing he prescribed her with were antihistamines, but I am not sure if the issue is being given the attention it deserves. On the other hand, my father had to undergo prostate surgery a while back, and he has been experiencing itching throughout his body ever since. After hearing that my father had been to all kinds of doctors and none of them had figured out what was causing the itching, I went with my father to one of his appointments. I was so disappointed to witness that the doctor asked my father a bunch of administrative and surface-level questions, but never touched my father once! For all he knew, my father could have mowed the lawn that day and was experiencing some sort of reaction to something. But how would he know if he was just typing away on a computer and not thoroughly examining him? On other occasions, my parents have been prescribed antibiotic after antibiotic for different complaints, but they’ve ended up experiencing issues like stomach aches afterward because they were not instructed on how to properly take them. I have found that our health care system is so full of administrative processes, so inundated with data collection and insurance protocols, that real meticulous care is becoming less and less common.

It is upsetting to see the deficits in our country’s health care system, and it is eye-opening to know the ways people are treated in the health care systems of other countries. My sister is married to a surgeon from Italy and has lived in various parts of Europe. While she and her husband were visiting us here, my brother-in-law was outraged to learn about the price of prescriptions and all of the obstacles involved with insurance companies. In contrast, my parents visited Spain once and, while there, my father had to go to the hospital because his leg was swollen due to retention of water. At the hospital, they saw my father and ended up also seeing my mother for another medical issue. They were seen for free and were both prescribed with the medications that they needed. In addition, the doctor even called my parents every so often to see how they were doing! We were simply shocked. We couldn’t believe the difference in the quality of care, not to mention the difference in cost.

I don’t understand how the U.S. is involved in such a mess with its health care system. I don’t, and then I do. It’s about money at the end of the day. The insurance companies, “big pharma”-- they need to be making big money at all times. And having health insurance does not resolve the issues in the larger system. Nonetheless, the benefits of having health insurance cannot be denied. If Florida were to expand Medicaid and I were to qualify, I would at least be able to tend to my medical issues without some of the obstacles I’ve experienced while being uninsured.

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