The Cost of Things: Getting The Flu When Your Insurance Sucks

The first pediatrician I ever saw was called Dr. Trevedi, and she was wonderful. Instead of a white coat, she wore crimson saris accessorized with bejeweled chandelier earrings. Instead of Highlights in the waiting room, she had stacks of comic books. I was what Victorian novels refer to as a sickly child, so I saw Dr. Trevedi a lot. Since then, no other practitioner has compared, which is part of why I now hate going to the doctor.

The other reason I avoid interacting with medical professionals is my insurance and its $5000 deductible. Until I spend that amount, my plan covers absolutely nothing. I think it is legally supposed to pick up the tab for one office visit per year, but that has never happened. So when my boyfriend came down with the flu this winter, all I could see when I looked at him were Major Expenses looming. “Don’t worry, I still love you, even though you’re a cesspool of disease,” I said, edging slowly toward the other side of the bed.

For two weeks, I thought I was in the clear, even though the flu vaccine this year was only 23 percent effective. I developed the kind of immuno-exceptionalism normally found in anti-vaxxers. Maybe being constantly sick as a kid made me hardy!

Thanks to my newfound pioneer attitude, my response to grogginess and an incipient cough was to take two Advil and a bracing three-hour walk through snow-encrusted Prospect Park. Here’s what that cost me:

Urgent Care: $215.99

Even as I got sicker and sicker, I delayed going to the doctor until I could no longer shuffle from my room to the kitchen without taking multiple breaks. This dire moment came the exact day that everything in New York shut down thanks to a theoretical blizzard that never materialized, so urgent care was my only option. Some quick tests revealed I had the flu, plus “complications” in the form of bronchitis and a sinus infection. On the way out of my appointment, the receptionist gave me a free pen, so I guess you can consider part of that expense recouped.

 

Prescriptions: $87.79

This covered steroids, an inhaler, Flonase, antibiotics and the kind of cough syrup you can’t buy over the counter because it’s too easy to make into meth. When the pharmacist rung me up, she looked at me with pitying eyes. “You mean your insurance doesn’t cover any of this?”

 

Lost wages: About $480.00

My job, like many jobs in the U.S., doesn’t offer paid sick leave, so this was my biggest expense. Working from home allowed me to resist taking time off for a while, but I had to once I couldn’t lift my head to look at the computer.

 

Miscellaneous:

Nyquil: $13.99

Advil: $0. Luckily I found a container of ibuprofen the size of a grain silo in my bathroom, which in retrospect was probably expired

Off-brand tissues with the gentle texture of sandpaper: $3.25

Whiskey for my throat: $34.99

Easy-to-digest soups and crackers: about $20

 

Total expenses: $856.01

 

Gains: Being trapped in my apartment probably saved me money on restaurants, public transportation and all the other costs associated with being a functioning member of society.

Maybe someday I’ll meet my deductible. I just have to get the flu 16 more times.

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