Column: Women are overcharged for basic healthcare, making them wary of seeking medical help

I became aware there was a cost to having a uterus when I visited the gynecologist for the first time after turning 21 in spring 2017.

The week before my birthday I received a letter notifying me it was time to make an appointment for my first Pap smear, the screening for HPV and cervical cancer. It felt like I was being told, “Yay you’re 21, don’t forget to think about cancer!”

The waiting room was stale and clean like always, but it’s familiarity didn’t offer any comfort despite the five years I had visited that office. My nerves got the best of me as I counted down the minutes until I would be called into the exam room. I recalled the advice my mother gave me, to relax and not panic. She warned I might see blood and experience discomfort, but it was a part of taking care of myself and being healthy.

As I changed into the hospital robe and positioned myself in the stirrups, I wanted nothing more than for it to be over.

My doctor asked for a brief overview of my sexual activity over the past year, if I had any concerns about my birth control and sent me on my way. The appointment ended within 15 minutes. Nothing was out of the ordinary. The only difference was, in addition to having my regular well-women’s visit, I was getting a Pap smear done.

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While I worried about any abnormalities coming back in my test results, I didn’t realize that I also needed to worry about the medical bill coming along with it. Within two weeks, the charges for that doctor’s visit showed up on my insurance bill.

Because I am under 26 years old and live with my parents, I chose to stay on my family health care plan. We have relatively “good” insurance, according to my mother. Most of our doctor visits are covered and we’re hardly ever forced to turn down medical care due to the cost. This wasn’t my first time getting a routine sexually transmitted infection test done either; the same tests had been ordered before by the same doctor.

The insurance company billed us $793.96 for what we thought was a simple and straightforward doctor’s visit and routine testing.

After that visit I felt like I couldn’t seek treatment, that if anything ever didn’t feel right I should wait until I’m “sick enough” to be forced to pay the bill for it.

I joined the 48 percent of Americans who feel they’ve received a medical bill that was too high, according to a 2014 New York Times poll.

My stepfather was understandably upset, and he immediately began questioning me about what happened during the appointment. We had a “family meeting” to review the cost.

While they didn’t intend to, my parents made me feel slightly guilty about why the cost was so high. I was under the impression I was simply recieving basic health care, as gynecologist appointments are recommended annually for women starting at the age of 21. I questioned if I shared too much with my doctor and blamed myself for the bill.

The stress weighed on me, because my parents decided to argue against the insurance company for charging us that much. I often overheard my stepfather calling the insurance and asking who he could speak to regarding the situation. During this time my mother was frustrated as well, because the only explanation we received was that the tests were considered “experimental” which voided them from insurance coverage.

We couldn’t understand why a routine women’s exam could be labeled as “experimental” when I was told it was the right choice for my health. It felt like I was being told my health didn’t fall under the scope of basic health care and according to Vitals, a health care company, this is true for 69 percent of women who have higher out-of-pocket costs than men.

I felt like there was a price tag attached to my body. I worried about the women who may not be able to afford that bill, because I know I am fortunate to have that privilege.

While I am lucky enough to have access to a low-cost option on campus, I can’t help but wonder what will happen when I graduate. Yes, there is Planned Parenthood, but why should I be forced to leave one of my primary physicians due to fears of insurance charges?

My experience has affected how I view my personal health. Instead of only being worried about taking care of myself, I now worry about the cost. I haven’t been back to see my doctor and I’m concerned about the next refill I will inevitably need for my birth control.

Health care shouldn’t be a burden to the patient and I can only hope that in the future, if a high medical bill comes again, I’ll be able to afford it.

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