Today we'll take a glimpse at our nation's health insurance system and into a very personal part of my life. The discussion involves my colon and a medical problem known as diverticulitis, which combines the Latin words divertic ("getting old") and ulitis ("is so much fun I could just @#&*, you know, if I could").
Footnote: To younger readers, this column may seem repugnant and totally irrelevant to your life. For that I am sorry. On the other hand, I'm going to be like a god at every assisted living center in town.
Let's go back to Jan. 6, when I detected slight discomfort in my lower left abdomen or bowel region, followed by some unusual activity down there. By unusual, I mean experts brought in 40,000 barrels of mud and tried a risky "top kill" procedure. (It failed, the gas continued to escape from the well and the next morning there were several dead ducks and a paralyzed raccoon outside our bathroom window.)
As the pain intensified, I did what most men do in this type of personal medical crisis: I shuffled to the couch, curled up in the fetal position and moaned and complained and shouted swear words. My wife kept saying something about going to the hospital, but it was hard to understand her with that clothespin on her nose.
I was awake all night and the next day it was worse, so my wife loaded me into the car, rolled down the windows, got her head as far as possible out of the sunroof and drove really fast to the emergency room. I felt dazed and confused, completely out of it, barely aware of what was going on around me, and I found myself thinking: "Hey, I could be the mayor!"
At our village's new Memorial Hospital North I was rushed into an exam room. One doctor said it could be a gallstone. Another said maybe a kidney stone. Dr. Seamus O'Leary Kilpatrick-O'Sullivan said it was probably a blarney stone.
Then I had a CT scan. CT, as you may already know, stands for computed tomography, an incredible technology in which digital geometry processing is used to generate a three-dimensional image of your insurance card and your bank account balance for the hospital's billing department.
Seriously, the scan found diverticulitis, a series of abnormal and infected pouches in the lining of my colon. The doctor said that if left untreated they could bleed and even rupture, causing serious illness or death. I was given heavy-duty antibiotics, and a few weeks later I underwent a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis. (Footnote: Actual 5-by-7 photographs from inside my colon are now on sale at geethatlookslikedougbruce.com.)
Eventually, they say, I might have to have surgery to remove the bad section of my colon. This would leave me with a semi-colon or, in strict medical terms, a ; for the rest of my life.
And I'm not complaining, but the bill for the CT scan and my two-hour stay in the emergency room — this does not include the colonoscopy — came to $7,299.40. (The usual cost for this service is $7,300, but I received a 60-cent discount because I had shaved my own stomach on the way to the hospital. Just kidding.)
Luckily, however, I had an insurance policy with Humana, which is run by CEO Michael McCallister. He received total compensation in 2009 of $6.5 million, including a $1.8 million performance bonus, according to research by Associated Press.
So Humana, which turned a $1.04 billion profit last year, reviewed the medical documents and informed me that it wouldn't be paying a nickel of the bill. Not a penny. Nada.
Here now, Humana's official explanation, which is listed as Service Code 784: "Based on presenting symptoms, the emergency room was an inappropriate setting for care according to plan documents."
I was hoping I'd get Humana rejection code 926. In that one, Humana says it can't help with my bill because it has already spent $835,000 on doctors who are frantically searching for Mike McCallister's conscience.
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