The man I’ll call George died at a hospital in Massachusetts last April. He had AIDS and Hepatitis C. George was managing both until February when his state subsidized insurance coverage ended. He’d started earning too much money and no longer qualified. George, a construction contractor, found an employer who let George sign on to the company plan. He submitted the paperwork, but there was a delay. This happens. There might be some missing information or the first month’s payment is late. For George, there was a 10 week gap between when his coverage through Commonwealth Care ended and his new insurance plan kicked in.
In February, while he was uninsured, George stopped taking his medicine. He didn’t have the roughly $4400 a month to refill his AIDS prescriptions. George skipped his meds again in March. That month George got a bad cough.
He went to the hospital. George had had pneumonia before and was pretty sure he had it again. A doctor gave him a prescription and sent him home. By the time George returned to the hospital, a virulent strain of pneumonia had settled into both lungs. George, with his weakened immune system, couldn’t beat it. Two months after George lost his coverage and stopped filling his prescriptions, he died. A letter telling George his new insurance was active arrived a few weeks later.
I heard this story from a doctor who treated George and his long term partner. I don’t have all the details and am not using George’s real name because his family is embarrassed about the fact that he had AIDS.
I’m sharing what I do know of the story because the tragedy of George’s death is especially potent right now. The state Health Connector website is still having problems. Connector staff and board members have extended the current coverage for members in an effort to make sure that no one goes without health insurance while the re-enrollment problems continue. But there are concerns that people will get frustrated and either give up or will put off going through the process of choosing a new plan. Many of us push letters from our insurance companies aside, thinking they aren’t that important or won’t make sense if we do open them.
A lapse in coverage might not matter for most of us. We aren’t in the same precarious state as was George last February. But don’t delay. Going without coverage for even a couple of months can be deadly.