Dear Insurance Company,
Consider this a white flag.
After 15 months of stomach-sinking letters, countless minutes spent listening to bad elevator music, appeal writing, nonsensical “retro pre-certification” seeking, and hope against hope, I surrender.
I will pay the gigantic bill. I think you should pay it. The doctor thinks you should pay it. But you have made clear that you will put us both through every bureaucratic torture exercise invented in order to wear us both out.
Truth is, I’m not that hard to wear out these days. I’m chasing a 22-pound, 9-month old around the house, trying to make sure she doesn’t stick her finger in a light socket or get scratched by the totally-not-amused cat. In fact, I’m kind of amazed I lasted this long — dutifully putting this on my to-do list over and over again, using precious nap time and/or expensive child care time to translate the fear-mongering, jargon-filled prose from the bill collection agency into a language my sleep-deprived brain could understand.
Here it is in a nutshell: three tests to make sure that the baby was okay, which are given to many pregnant women, have been deemed unnecessary because you, a health insurance company, found an academic paper somewhere that says as much. It took all of us as much time to conclude this as it did Maya to become a fully functioning human, contract her way into the world through the most ancient and primordial of dances, learn how to breath, suck, sleep, eat, clap, and most recently, wave hello and goodbye (albeit sometimes to herself instead of the person she is actually bidding adieu.) She so wins.
I mean, truth is, despite the fact that I’m surrendering, I actually win. You’ll have my money, but I’ll have the most valuable and rare of currencies to me these days: my time. It’s a modern spiritual reclamation. I choose the chance that I’ll be able to do something sacred with my time — watch Maya try to figure out how Velcro works, hand write a letter to my mom, write an essay that matters to a stranger — rather than battle boringly on and on with faceless, nameless you. In that way, I suppose I’m a believer in practical love over financial principle.
I also, and this should not be overlooked by any of us, actually have the money to choose surrender. So many people in this country don’t. For them, your bureaucratic acrobatics are not just exercises, time-sucks, and indignities — but assaults. They have no choice. They face down debt and illness and disability. They suffer the most elemental kind of denial, the kind that says your body, your wellbeing, your care are not worthy.
We all — no matter our economic or health status — have the power of our own memories to displace the mind-numbing Muzak.
What I really remember from April 19, 2013, the day of the three tests no longer in question (hallelujah!), is that we saw Maya for the first time. The nurse asked if I wanted John to come in. I said, yes, of course, and once he was in the exam room, our little creature slowly came into view on the screen. She had her fist near her mouth, visible radius and ulna bones, a perfectly round head. She had a spine — bright white and already tremendously complicated in its construction. This feeling that I was infinitely hung-over was for a purpose. We were actually having a baby — woven of our two strands of DNA, taking shape slowly but surely inside of my very own belly.
It was awe-inspiring.
In fact, John yelled, “No way!” the first moment he laid eyes on Maya’s image. I had to assure the nurse that he knew I was pregnant; this was not an actual surprise, just a sort of baffling and instantaneous expansion of the heart that led to exclamation. John told her that we would name the baby after her — Adele. He told every nurse this from that point on. I don’t think he was screwing with them; I think he actually felt that much connection in those moments and had no idea how else to express his gratitude.
Ultrasounds are made from high frequency sound waves and their echoes. It’s a technique similar to the echolocation used by bats, whales, and dolphins. My midwife taught me that my belly measured exactly the number of centimeters that Maya was weeks along in the womb. My daughter was born on the same day as her late great grandfather. She has his smile. I choose awe over bureaucracy today and every day that I have the luxury to do so.
I can only hope that this letter might remind you that behind every appeal denied, every painstakingly photocopied piece of paper sent your way, and every 45-minute phone wait is a person with a family that she adores, and, if she’s lucky, a job that she enjoys and a finite and sacred amount of time to spend on love. Obstructing that is more than a matter of money; it’s dehumanizing for you and us.
Courtney E. Martin