Tag Archives: Kaiser Permanente

Story of the Day: 1-8-11


The Walk of Life Part 2

See how I did that? I didn’t have a story for today, so I just continued the story from yesterday! And here’s a secret: I actually wrote the story today, because I didn’t have time to write it yesterday. Brilliant, right? This story-a-day project is going to be easier than I thought.

So, to continue:

The nurse in the nurse’s station told me the earliest they could see me was 3:30.

“But you’re seeing me right now,” I said. “I’m right here. There are tongue depressors in that jar right behind you. If you want to check my throat yourself, I can walk you through it.”

I didn’t really say that. If I’d said that, I would have been the king. What I actually said was, “Fine,” in a very passive-aggressive way. I declined his appointment offer, knowing that I could return to the Urgent Care office at 2:00 and presumably get in more quickly. Then I asked him if he could direct me to an ATM where I could get some cash to pay for parking. Because another awesome thing about being a member of the Kaiser Permanente healthcare cruise line is that they make you pay for parking. Sad smilies.

I left the building, walked 2 blocks in the wrong direction, walked back, and got my money. The ATM machine charged me $3 because it was not my bank. My bank charges me $2 for using the machine from another bank. Parking cost me $2. I was now down $7 and one hour of my life and I had not yet seen a doctor.

Adding insult to injury, the first place I went after leaving the parking garage? My bank. I had to deposit some checks. It is located approximately 1/8 of a mile away from the hospital. 

I went home to find Sarah and the baby engaged in our normal daily routine of farting around and waiting for the baby to get pissed off about something. I sat with them for a few hours, feeling unmotivated to accomplish anything, and then headed back to Kaiser at 1:30.

I arrived about 5 minutes before the Urgent Care “opened.” I put it in quotes because the Urgent Care had been open for several hours, they just hadn’t been interested in helping me.

I waited in front of the front desk, as I had before, until someone called me up.

“Can I help you?” the woman at the desk asked me.

“I was here at 10:30 and they told me to come back at 2:00,” I said. “I have a sore throat and I’d like to see a doctor.”

“Do you have an appointment?” the woman asked me.

“No!” I said, frustrated. “I was here at 10:30 and they told me to come back at 2:00!”

“They didn’t take your name down for an appointment?” the woman asked.

“No!” I said. “They didn’t do anything!”

In retrospect, what I should have said was, “yes, they took my name down.” Then, when they looked at the list and did not see my name, I might have been able to play on their sympathies and gotten in more quickly. But my damned honesty gene took over, as it always seems to when it’s least useful to me.

“There are 13 people in front of you,” the woman said.

Having no idea how many doctors were on duty or what the average traffic was at the Urgent Care facility, the number meant nothing to me. Maybe she just told me in case I was superstitious. I told her that 13 seemed like a fine number.

“What’s wrong with you?” she asked.

“I have a tailpipe stuck up my ass,” I said. No, not really. “I have a sore throat,” I said.

She handed me a surgical mask. “Wear this,” she said. “And have a seat.”

It took 50 minutes for the doctor to see me. During that time I moved twice on account of loud children, apologizing in my head each time in case my child grows up to be so loud that people move because of her. In my final destination, a 250 pound woman came in and plopped down next to me, lifting my chair off the ground. She smelled like cigarette smoke and I hated her.

I tried to wear the surgical mask but it made my face hot and fogged up my glasses. Also, I was in a hospital and it was ridiculous that they would make me wear a surgical mask to hang out with other sick people, none of whom were wearing masks. But I was afraid they were going to yell at me, so what I did was I slid it down discreetly just under my nostrils and tilted my head down so it would look like I was still wearing the mask to any mask police who were viewing me from afar.

When the doctor finally called me in, he performed two strep tests, then told me to wait in the waiting room for the results. “It will only take 5 minutes,” he assured me. I waited another 40 minutes for him to call me back and give me the results. And the results were negative, meaning that I had no strep throat, nor any other disease that could be diagnosed by a medical professional, and I had just wasted approximately 8 hours to learn that I really would have been better off staying home and resting.

Also, another little note for my Canadian friends: after all this, the doctor’s visit is not free. My $355/month merely subsidizes the care I receive. I still have to pay $25 every time I see the doctor. Grand total for the day, including another $4 for parking: $36. That seems pretty low, until you also factor in the amount of money I would have made if I had been able to work today. And also, the amount of money that I toss at KP every month without getting any medical assistance in exchange.

Last year, I went to the doctor’s once and the dentist twice. Each dentist’s visit cost me $100. That’s with insurance. (I have since switched dentists.) Let’s say that’s 50% of the cost of a cleaning, so there’s $200 Kaiser has spent on my behalf. The doctor’s appointment was a normal old checkup, for which I paid $25. With lab tests included, let’s be generous and say that cost Kaiser $300. So total paid out by Kaiser on my behalf in 2010: $500. Total paid by me in insurance costs: $3660. If I am doing my math correctly, that means Kaiser made a 77% profit on me in 2010. And with rates going up by $50/month in 2011, they are looking to do even better.

So, good on ya, insurance industry! And also, good on ya, President Obama, for rejecting Medicare for All before anyone was allowed to debate it. This for-profit system we have right now is clearly the best in the world. Our hospitals have some pretty fancy equipment. Kaiser may have done a terrible job managing my healthcare, but they have really fast computers in every room in that place. And an instant check-in machine for people with appointments! In the end, I am a truly satisfied customer. *

* More sarcasm.

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Story of the Day: 1-7-11


The Walk of Life: Part 1

I spent today being continually reminded of how flawless America’s healthcare system is. Really, just one flawless healthcare experience after another, all day. I’m glad we don’t have universal coverage because that system probably has flaws. Unlike our current system, which, as I discovered today, is really great for people who get sick. Especially people who get sick unexpectedly. It might be different for people who plan weeks ahead of time to get sick and set up doctor’s appointments for the exact day. That system might have a few flaws in it; I don’t know. But the system where you wake up sick and try to get help for it? That system = flawless.

I am being sarcastic! That last paragraph was sarcasm. Because today was the worst. Here’s what happened. A few days ago, I started coming down with a sore throat. I had a sore throat 3 weeks ago that was much worse. I went to the doctor that time and it turned out I had strep throat. 

I do not get sick often. Like, once every two years or so. And it’s never anything normal, like a cold or the flu. It’s always something insane. Like Bell’s Palsy. Or an abscess in my throat. But other than that, I’m a pretty reliably healthy person. Or at least mentally convinced that I am unable to get sick, and thus able to ignore the reality when I do. That seems awkward. When I do able to get sick?

Point being: under normal conditions, I am healthy. But this new baby has really played a number on us, in terms of our sleep levels. Not that she’s a bad sleeper … we’re very, very lucky compared to many stories I’ve heard. But we used to get 8-9 hours of sleep every night, and any deviation from those numbers is an unwelcome deviation. So that wears on a person’s body and mind. Also, I got a flu shot this year for the first time ever, and I swear that invited some beasties into my bloodstream who have been inviting their friends over to hang out. And still another theory is that there is now another person in the universe to detract from the full throttle attention I used to get from Sarah, and my infantile brain is jealous and craves the attention that illness brings. 

Or maybe it’s just a pure coincidence. But whatever’s going on, I have gotten sick twice since having a baby. The first time it was strep throat. I went to the doctor, got a prescription, took the prescription, and the illness went away. Then on Tuesday, Sarah and I both started feeling sore-throaty. She went to the doctor and found out she had strep throat, three weeks after I got it. My throat didn’t hurt nearly as much as it had the previous time, but I decided I should go to the doctor anyway, just to be safe.

I have spent many years as a freelance writer. Health insurance is very expensive. As a result, there have been long periods of time in my life when I have not had health insurance. But I am a somewhat responsible adult with a child now, so I now buy  private insurance from Kaiser Permanente.

For people who don’t live in a Kaiser state, KP’s system is a little strange. Kaiser Permanente was the first HMO in America. Or rather, the HMO is modeled on the Kaiser, um, model. For our Canadian readers, this means that everything you want to do health-wise, you must do through Kaiser’s chain of facilities and with Kaiser’s explicit permission. You can’t just go to any old medical facility and ask for any old help with your immediate and unexpected healthcare needs. For instance, there are plenty of walk-in clinics near our house that could have quickly diagnosed my healthcare problem and sent me on my way. But there is only one Kaiser walk-in clinic, and that is the only one I can go through and get reimbursed.

Unrelated but somewhat related is how much I pay: $305/month for health and dental. That’s what I paid last year. This year, they’re raising it to $355. Have I gotten sicker? I have not. It’s all up to the gods who determine medical costs. And I’m one of the lucky ones; Blue Shield of CA just announced their intention to increase some individual plans by 60%. My plan could have gone up to $488/month, and there is nothing I could have done about it but find another overpriced plan, or drop down to insurance that only covered catastrophic events. 

Okay. Which brings us to the story. Sorry, that’s a lot of preamble. I have Canadian readers who might need a lot of background in order to understand my misery.

At 10:30 this morning, I drove to the Kaiser Urgent Care clinic in Hollywood, which is about a 20 minute drive away from my house. When I had strep throat a few weeks ago I went to this clinic at 8 in the morning on a Saturday and was in and out in 2 hours.

This time, I walked in to the clinic and up to the nurse’s desk.

“Do you have an appointment?” the nurse asks.

“No,” I said. “I wasn’t aware I needed one. I thought this was walk-in Urgent Care.” 

“Not until 2:00 pm. Right now it’s only for Kaiser employees.”

Which, I mean, that’s weird, right? They have thousands of people who buy their insurance. And they shut down their urgent care facilities until 2 pm just for Kaiser employees. 

“Well, what can I do?” I asked. “I don’t want to come back at 2:00.”

The nurse told me I could go to the Family Practice building down the street and see if any of the doctors there had cancellations.  ”It’s right next to the Burger King,” she said. The Burger King that is conveniently located within walking distance of the hospital. Because that is exactly where healthy food choices should be located.

I left the building and walked the wrong direction, natch, then doubled back and found the correct building. As I was walking in, I overheard the people in front of me ask where “walk-in services” was located. The front desk person told them it was on the Atrium level. I followed these people, even though I could clearly see from the directory that Family Practice was on the 4th floor. We got to the Atrium level and stepped off the building. This floor was actually the “Walk-in Surgery” floor. Which, really? They have a rapid care system for surgeries but not sore throats? I’m sure if I had investigated, it would have been employee-only surgeries. It’s a revolving door system; you work at the hospital until you get sick, then you get treated by the hospital, infecting the employees who will soon be treated by you. My $355/month is basically just paying to keep the staff healthy. I’m going to write it off this year as a charitable contribution.

But I digress. After waiting 15 minutes for the elevator to arrive, I rode it back up to the correct floor and got in line. A window opened up. “Can I help you?” the woman asked. 

“Urgent Care sent me over,” I said. “I have a sore throat, and I’d like to see a doctor.”

“She’ll help you,” the woman said, pointing to the woman next to her.

I got back in line. The woman who was supposed to be helping me helped whoever was in her line and then stepped away from the desk. A man got in line behind me.

“Can I help you?” the first woman asked the man.

“What about him?” the man responded, pointing to me.

“He’s waiting,” the woman said.

Five minutes later, the second woman returned. 

“Can I help you?” she asked.

“Urgent Care sent me over,” I said. “I have a sore throat, and I’d like to see a doctor.”

“Who’s your primary care physician?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

She looked something up on the computer and nodded.

“All right,” she said. “Have a seat, and a nurse will see you soon.”

“Great!” I said. “That sounds great.” 

Nurses are the real doctors anyway, right? I was sure whatever was wrong with me could easily be diagnosed by a nurse. Absolutely acceptable healthcare response, and it had only taken me about 25 minutes. For a minute, I had beeb concerned that I would have to leave and come back at two.

I sat in the waiting area and waited. After about 15 minutes, the nurse called me into the back. I followed him into his office. 

“What seems to be the problem?” he asked.

“I have a sore throat,” I said.

He sat down and looked at his computer with a furrowed brow.

“It looks like the earliest we can see you is 3:30,” he said.

— to be continued —

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