The day after Christmas in 2011, my husband was visiting his family in Western New York state with our two children. In my in-laws’ far-too-small home, my son stepped on their new old dog, prompting the beast to turn around and bit him on the face right in between the eyes. The ER visit that followed required my husband and my brother-in-law to pin our son down so that the late-night newbie doctor’s hands could shake with a Parkinson’s-like fervor while he installed three stitches. I was not with them, and my husband knows me well enough to make the decision to not call me until after our son was happily sucking on a Popsicle and could report with a smile that “the dog ate my face.” It was a scary night for sure, a trauma that we think might be at fault for some of our son’s behavioral issues now years later, but the real pain and suffering is how that evening sent us into a spiraling bureaucratic mess dealing with insurance companies.
We adopted both of our kids through the foster care system. Let’s be clear that this is not a pleasant process. Our family is built on the destruction of another. We lived with our daughter for sixteen months not knowing if she would ever be legally a part of our family, and every time her birthmother stumbled in life, it was hard not to celebrate the gain by our family. Primarily because of the legal risk involved, Massachusetts does provide certain incentives to parents who adopt through the foster care system. One of these perks is that children are enrolled in MassHealth, our state’s Medicaid system. The health insurance covers 100% of medical costs, no copays and no deductibles.
There is of course a catch. After the dog ate our son’s face, we discovered that that 100% coverage does not exist beyond our state borders. My initial conversation with MassHealth went something like this:
MH: Sir, we do not cover emergency services with hospitals that are not contracted with MassHealth.
Me: So, what was I supposed to do when my son was bleeding profusely from the face after a dog attacked him?
MH: The hospital should have notified you when you entered for care that the services might not be covered.
Me: And if they had done so, should I have let my son continue to bleed until we found a hospital that was contracted with MassHealth?
MH: That’s a personal choice, sir.
Me: Can you tell me whether or not the hospital in question is contracted with MassHealth?
MH: I’m sorry, we cannot discuss billing issues with clients, sir.
Me: So how do I find out if the hospital is contracted with MassHealth?
MH: They need to bill us and we will determine if they are covered.
Me: And where should they send the bill?
MH: We cannot discuss billing issues with clients, sir.
Over the past two years we have endured countless conversations with both MassHealth and the hospital in Western New York, the former assuring us that they could make a decision once the bill was received and the latter saying that they had billed MassHealth many times with no response.
This week my husband and I applied for a home equity line of credit to cover some home improvement projects, and the bank disclosed our credit scores today. Todd’s score was shockingly low, and it turns out the Western New York hospital has sent the face-eating issue to a collection agency. Hooray! Luckily this is not an exorbitant bill, and we should probably just pay the thing off to clarify the credit, but I have always been one to dig my heels in on even the smallest items that could be considered matters of principle.
Now all of this could honestly happen to any family, and it really proves to me that regardless of insurance coverage, we are all one tragic accident/diagnoses away from complete financial ruin, but I was struck by something unique to us when I was speaking with the biznatchy woman from MassHealth tonight, who all but laughed us off the phone for thinking that this 100% medical coverage would take care of this bill after our son was attacked by a dog out of state. When we call into MassHealth about one of our kids, we have to give them all of our names and social security numbers, and addresses, including the names of both parents. We are immediately outed to this lowly customer service worker on the other end of the line. When that person is rude to us, I have to wonder if it’s because of the genders at the top of our family hierarchy.
This sort of thing happens all the time. When the four of us–one white man, one black girl, one brown boy, and one vaguely yellow man–are going through security at the airport and the TSA officer is all smiles for the family in front of us but gives us the stink eye, I can’t help but think that her demeanor is a result of what she sees before her. Granted, I’ve been known to be a biznatch right back at some of these people (and once in a while, my claws are the first to come out), but even in those instances, I can’t help but wonder how my family’s gender and race play into how likely a person is to respond with calm and respect.
Most importantly though, this whole experience has proven to me that the children have to take greater care to only be bitten by animals in Massachusetts.