Thursday, May 28, 2009

Canada's healthcare saved her; Ours won't cover her

Maggie Yount in 2007
Maggie Yount, a Canadian citizen, got months of treatment and rehab in Canada after a drunk driver crashed into her car in 2007. The accident broke 13 of her bones, injured her brain and left her in a coma for four days.

by David Lazarus

San Marcos resident Maggie Yount wasn't surprised when the letter from insurance giant Anthem Blue Cross arrived the other day. Yet she couldn't help but be frustrated.

"Some medical conditions, either alone or in combination with the cost of medication, present uncertain medical underwriting risks," Anthem informed her. "In view of these risks, we find we are unable to offer you enrollment at this time."

In other words, no health coverage for you.

Yount, 24, finds herself in that cloudy area in which a "preexisting condition" makes her too great a risk in the eyes of money-minded insurance companies. And so she's being excluded from the system.

"It looks like I'll just have to be very, very careful about everything," Yount told me. "But what kind of way is that to live your life?"

If that were all there was to it, her story would still be worth telling as the Obama administration embarks on an ambitious effort to reform the woefully dysfunctional U.S. healthcare system.

But Yount's tale runs even deeper.

In November 2007, she was rushed to the emergency room after a drunk driver crashed into her car on a Nova Scotia highway.

Yount awoke from a coma four days later. She had suffered a brain injury in the head-on collision. Thirteen bones were broken, from her leg to her cheek. The other driver was killed.

Yount, a Canadian citizen, spent three months in a Halifax hospital, receiving treatment and rehab that must have cost a small fortune.

"I have no idea how much it cost," she said. "It's not something I've ever needed to know."

So who paid the bill?

"The government of Canada."

The United States is the only industrialized democracy that doesn't have a government-run insurance system. Under such systems, universal coverage is provided through tax revenue. There are no premiums, co-pays or deductibles.

It's not a perfect system -- people often end up waiting for nonessential treatment. But it won't leave you destitute if things go bad. Basically, you're covered. For everything.

In Yount's case, that ended when she moved to San Marcos in northern San Diego County a year ago to be with her fiance. They were married last July.

She then tried to obtain health coverage under the U.S. system. Her American husband works as a software engineer on a contract basis and doesn't have employer-provided coverage.

Before applying to Anthem, Yount applied for an individual policy offered by Aetna Inc. She received a letter a couple of months ago informing her that her application had been rejected.

The letter noted that Yount's medical record includes "a history of traumatic brain injury with multiple fractures treated with hospitalization." It concluded that "this condition exceeds the allowable limits provided by our underwriting guidelines."

Maggie Yount now,0,2252325.column?page=1

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