Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Snake Pit

I am a life-long learner. My thirst for knowledge, my passion for exploration and travel, and my obnoxious know-it-all obsession [that’s a joke] has taken me on many rewarding journeys. My life was teaching, child advocacy, and political activism.

In November of 1997 I was driving the lead vehicle in a 4 car collision. I was just starting to leave a changing traffic light when a lady in a brand-new Dodge Durango failed to slow and struck a small sedan which struck a mini-van which struck my Dodge Dakota truck. The impact was so sever that the jaws-of-life were needed to rescue the woman in the sedan. When the police and ambulances arrived on the scene the investigating officer was surprised to learn that my truck was involved in the crash. I had been pushed about thirty feet ahead of the mini-van. Upon closer inspection it was apparent that the impact had caused the box of the truck to buckle and create a sizable dent in the truck’s cab. The frame of the truck and the rear bumper were bent out of shape.

My life changed. I had to abandon my union positions and most social activities due to the fact that by the end of a normal teaching day I was drained of all energy and overcome with muscle strain and pain. Eighteen months later, in June of 1999, my Dodge minivan was struck from behind by an elderly man with failed brakes. My mending neck was further injured

I am not seeking sympathy with my narrative. I am simply trying to help others to understand the effects of traumatic injuries, endless medical testing and treatment, and a life with chronic and debilitating pain.

A change in Michigan’s Public School Employee Retirement Act allowed me the opportunity to use most of my tax-deferred 403b savings to purchase 5 years of service credit towards a full 30 year teacher’s pension. When I retired in 2003, I had a severe reduction in income and an increased burden of having to pay for insurance premiums and a greater amount of money for deductibles, office visit co-pays, medical testing co-pays, and prescription co-pays. The minor increases in monthly pension benefits given to MIP Plan retirees each October have been taken away in each following new calendar year by increases in insurance premiums; annual insurance deductions; and office visit, testing, and prescription co-pays.

To literally add insult to injury – the co-pay for mental health medical expenses went from 10% under my old MESSA Blue Cross coverage to 50% under the State of Michigan’s Public School Employee Retirement System.

I have had a life-long struggle with depression. I have managed to live a full and successful life with only having had to be under the care of mental health professionals through 4 short episodes in 50 years. My last round of treatment was coming to an end when the 1999 accident occurred. After a few more months of counseling my doctors discharged me. My primary care physician was advised to keep me on an atypical anti-depressant thereafter.

On July 1st, 2003 I became a retired teacher. My former life was now completely gone. After an entire year without work I tried to do some limited amount of substitute teaching. After a few weeks I realized that I could no longer work without either bearing severe pain all day or spending a part of my school day slightly stoned from the medications needed to get through each day. I couldn’t be effective and I wouldn’t cheat my employer or the children entrusted to my care.

My only recourse was to finally accept my disability and file a claim for Social Security Disability. After a ton of paperwork, two independent medical exams and months of waiting, my application was rejected. Today, after another long 10 months, I am still waiting for a court date to be scheduled to hear my appeal.

Sorry, it takes some time to tell the key points of my story.

In January of 2005, my 79 year old father had his second heart attack. Dad had his first attack 19 years earlier and it was followed by a double bypass surgery on his heart. After the January heart attack, Dad’s health began to fail. Within months, I became the primary care giver to my father. For 5 days a week, I woke Dad in the morning, fed him breakfast, dispensed his insulin and heart medications, and set aside food for his lunch. I returned each evening to prepare dinner and dispense his medications. Fetching the mail, doing the dishes, doing small loads of laundry, and performing minor household chores were also part of my role in Dad’s care. My sister and an older brother took care of Dad on the weekends. They also took care of the housecleaning, grocery shopping, and other tasks that I was physically incapable of doing.

Taking care of Dad became my life.

My father passed away on February 28th of this year.

My oldest brother’s yearlong battle with cancer ended three months later on May 22nd, 2006.

My profound grief was a trigger for a serious battle with depression. My primary care physician referred me to a psychiatrist in early April. And, after 51 years – I was FINALY and CORRECTLY diagnosed as having Bipolar Depression. I will write more about this malady at another time.

Today, I want to focus on one of the major obstacles that I must overcome in order to manage my disease. Money- more precisely, insurance coverage parity.

Michigan is one of eleven states that do not require insurance coverage for mental health disorders to be on par with the coverage of other health problems. As I noted above, my doctor office co-pays for visits with mental health care professionals is 50%. In-hospital coverage is limited to a small number of days per year and a small number in a lifetime.

Now, consider for a moment that someone’s child, brother, sister, or parent is limited to only 60 LIFETIME visits to a cardiologist for a severe heart condition. Or that a family member is only allowed to be hospitalized for just 20 days in a one year period for cancer treatment. How fair would that be? I have an organic brain disease. It is no different than my high blood pressure, neck, and thyroid problems. My insurance coverage to help me combat my disease should be on par with all other health conditions.

Presently, my pension is the primary source of income for a two adult and three feline household. I fear that I may not find enough money for both counseling and the short and costly visits to a medical doctor during the trial and error process involved in drug therapy. Finding the right mix of medications to stabilize my severe and frequent mood swings may be a long long trek. I am presently cycling from mania to depression several times a week and sometimes cycling up and down in a 24 hour period. This freaking roller coaster ride is not thrilling. As my brother would say, “it’s f@#*d up”!

Unfortunately, if I lose my Social Security Disability appeal, my STATE OF MICHIGAN pension income level will continue to prohibit me from qualifying for any government assistance. My income also places me over the threshold for assistance from most, if not all, charities.

Parity. That’s all I am asking for right now. Give me a fair chance and I will manage. I must.

Please write your State Representative and State Senator. And, please go to the Michigan Partners for Parity website for more information.

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