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Does it Really Pay to Have Health Insurance?

Health care for all protest outside health ins...
Image by Steve Rhodes via Flickr

“Health care costs a lot of money and you’re probably not using it a lot of the time,” says 22-year-old Randy Densmore as he lights up a cigarette. “In theory, I think it benefited me to not have health insurance.”

After graduating high school four years ago in Wallingford, Conn., Densmore moved to Chicago to be closer to friends who had already moved here. Without a college degree, it became difficult for Densmore to find a job with health benefits. He ended up working at Patty Burger in the South Loop making minimum wage, until he found a job waiting tables three to four nights a week at Quince Restaurant in Evanston.

Densmore is one of 50.7 million people without health insurance, according to The Census Bureau’s 2009 report. After a life-threatening injury to his left hand on August 17, he was considerably worried about what his treatment and recovery were going to cost him. After his initial treatment, he soon discovered the Limit of Liability program, or the LOL, at Cook County Hospital.

The LOL program, if the patient is approved, reduces the patient’s bill based on income and places him on a sliding fee scale. After receipt of an LOL application, a financial assessment is performed. Depending on the case, the hospital bill may be discounted up to 100 percent. Densmore said he is confident that he will fall into that category.

Densmore pushed his long brown hair under his fedora and grabbed an ashtray from the nightstand next to his bed as he explained what occurred in the accident that sent him to the ER.

“I had some friends over on the night of August 17 and we were fooling around in my living room. My friend Kayla tossed a pillow across the room, which hit a stand-up mirror against the wall that had already been partially broken some time before. As the mirror began to fall, my natural instinct was to catch it.”

Doing so, the sharp end of the broken mirror sliced his left palm, sending blood into the air while severing tendons, fatty tissue, some nerves, and a major artery.

“I put a towel over it to slow down the bleeding and realized I couldn’t move two of my fingers,” Densmore said.

“I was freaking out. I cleaned up so much blood of the wall and floor,” said Shannon Frey, Densmore’s girlfriend.

“He has such a wonderful heart. He doesn’t deserve to be in debt the rest of his life. Accidents happen to everyone,” she added.

Had he not gone to the Emergency Room, he would have bled to death. Also, without hearing about the LOL program, his hospital bill would have totaled an estimated $100,000, a figure which Densmore said would take the rest of his life to repay.

With surgery, follow up visits, rehabilitation and pain medication, Densmore is positive that having health insurance would have cost him more money than being in the LOL program.

Although he may have avoided a hospital bill that would take a lifetime to repay, Densmore still worries about other things.

“I’ve been doing some research,” he says as his tan face becomes more serious. “According to statistics, regaining full mobility is not common.”

Densmore begins pausing more between words as he contemplates the possibility of never regaining full mobility or feeling in his hand. His left hand, the one that was injured, is also his dominant hand, so Densmore has had to become more ambidextrous since the accident.

“I do crossword puzzles and stuff to practice writing with my other hand,” he says.

Thankfully, Densmore is not out of work. He can no longer wait tables until he is fully recovered, but his employer created a host position so that he could continue generating some minimal income. Due to the LOL program at Cook County Hospital, Densmore can still at live a life without the stress of overwhelming debt.

“I’m just happy that I was able to receive the care I needed without health insurance. It’s very relieving,” Densmore says.

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