Miss Migraine: Shopping for health insurance

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. A version of this post appeared first on my blog of the same name on September 6, 2012. I’ve updated it with reflections and more experiences.

When I was 26, my partner was laid off and we lost our health insurance. It was 2012, and the ACA exchanges weren’t up and running yet. So, I had to shop for health insurance on my own, to ask questions like “What kind of formulary does this plan have?” and “What would the prescription co-pays be for venlafaxine, topiramate, verapamil, Maxalt, Migranal?”

Caduceus and headlight

“Caduceus and Headlight” by Flickr user takomabibelot. Used under Creative Commons license.

I had to check and double check for things like spinal manipulations and mental/behavioral health coverage. I had to weigh specialist co-pays against deductibles and monthly premiums, generic prescription co-pays against brand-name prescription co-pays and mail order pharmacy co-pays.

At the time, a colleague of mine, similar age, same career goals (writer), said this to me: “Yeah, I had health insurance in grad school. It was a decent plan. But I never used it.”

I use my insurance at least once every week. To refill prescriptions, to see my chiropractor, my therapist, my migraine specialist. To get another test done. So many tests. Yearly blood work, at least, but throw in a nearly annual visit to the ER and we’re talking CT scan or MRI on top of that, which always come out of the deductible.

The specialist visit co-pays mean more to me than the regular office visit co-pays. I hardly even looked at that column. I see my PCP once or twice a year. I see my migraine specialist every three months. But even more important, it’s the prescription co-pays I have to watch out for. Right now a generic version of my abortive drug, almotriptan, costs me $80 for 12 pills. A generic.

My friends, my colleagues, most of them don’t even know what their specialist co-pays are. I’m painfully aware of mine. I envy them, my friends who look at health insurance as a bonus, an unnecessary extra.

In 2012, a health care plan for two people with a $5,000 deductible cost us $500 per month. Honestly I don’t know how we afforded it, except that we couldn’t afford not to. I’ve been on several different insurance plans since then, some good, some bad.

On each one, though, I’ve had to fight for the coverage I need. Migraine isn’t a deadly disease in most cases, but it can be deadly in indirect ways. It can make you so miserable you just want to find relief in any way possible. It can make you desperate. And health insurers? They don’t care. They are only thinking about the bottom line. The ACA didn’t change that. Sabotaging the ACA didn’t change that.

But you know what will? Universal health care. I’m not going to debate the ins and outs of it or exactly what form it should take. Greed is literally killing people. Universal health care won’t solve all the problems of our health care system, but it could save lives. I hope one day I can talk to a teenager and tell them the crazy story of how you used to have to shop for health insurance.

For now, though, it’s open enrollment season with our current insurance provider, and I need to get back to the books to figure out which plan will be the least frustrating.

 

Miss Migraine: Bleeding for Star Wars (literally) and unavoidable convention migraine triggers

Banner that says "The Adventures of Miss Migraine"

The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 28, 2012.

After four days of nonstop Star Wars awesomeness at Star Wars Celebration VI in Orlando, Florida, I’m not even remotely ready to resume “normal” life or start classes (which happens tonight — I’ve even got a little bit of homework I need to do…). This was my fifth Star Wars Celebration convention, and like all the others before this one, the warm, open fan community inspired me creatively and personally.

The Star Wars fan community isn’t just about watching movies, reading books, and collecting action figures. We build life-size snow speeders, make movie- and comic- accurate costumes, build amazing LEGO sculptures of our favorite characters, create giant dioramas, write radio plays, make up new story lines, and so, so much more. We are active, engaged, and talented, and we have fun.

Celebration VI Jawa tattooine

Tattooine is hot and bright!

Although my head pain never went away completely, and I did have to take a painkiller the first day of the convention, I believe being engaged, active, and inspired is an incredible migraine analgesic. My brain was releasing so many endorphins that the pain, while present, seemed almost irrelevant. Either that, or being at Star Wars conventions gives me Force powers and I was able to temporarily heal myself.

Although the celebrity panel with actor Ian McDiarmid (Senator Palpatine / the Emperor) was easily my favorite panel, waiting for anything at the main stage was somewhat of a trial. During the panel pre-shows, they played incredibly loud music and shone incredibly bright lights into the audience. I didn’t bring earplugs, because I’ve never needed them at a convention before, and normally the lighting is so poor as to eliminate any possibility of decent photography. I basically had to put my jacket over my face and plug my ears with my fingers to avoid an instantaneous migraine, but seeing the actual panels made it worth the effort. Still, I will probably send an email to the convention organizers mentioning the problem this caused me. I imagine it’s something they never thought about.

Star Wars bantha tattoo

I got this bantha tattoo on Sunday at the convention. Art by Jason Leigh. It hurt like a bitch, but at least it distracted me from my head!

This was Ian McDiarmid’s first convention appearance, and he shared a wealth of behind the scenes stories about filming Return of the Jedi (it took four to five hours to put his makeup on, and he got the part because the original actor couldn’t wear the yellow contacts). He was witty and smart (in response to an attendee’s wish that he be knighted, he responded, “You don’t need the knighthood when you have an Imperial crown.”).

At one panel, I also had to switch seats with my husband, because the person I sat next to had on enough cologne on to stun a gundark. And it was that heavy musky perfumey stuff that I can’t stand the smell of to begin with, not to mention the fact that any strong smells will give me a headache after about one minute.

Airplanes also give me migraines. It’s something about the cabin pressure, or the recycled air. I’m not sure. I can feel the pressure in my sinuses start to build up, which makes my face hurt, and before I know it, one of my temples starts throbbing. The flight home was fine, thankfully, but the flights to Orlando were incredibly painful. My husband got a migraine on the plane, too. But, unfortunately, there’s really nothing we could do about it except take drugs, use our aromatherapy products, cover our eyes and wait it out. Thankfully once we landed we both felt much better.

This was the first convention or Star Wars event where I’ve injured myself, and I must say I’m proud of my “battle wounds.” I fell and scraped up both my knees during the Bounty Hunt, a scavenger hunt where participants solve clues and search for “targets.” I wasn’t the only person who fell, but at least I had the excuse of running in a dress — no easy task.

Now I’m going to see if those Force powers will extend to homework and/or the errands I need to run today…

Miss Migraine: Migraine sun vs. migraine moon

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The Adventures of Miss Migraine is an ongoing column about my life with chronic migraine. This post appeared first on my blog of the same name on August 11, 2012.

Migraine moon revolving around Person earth

Sketch by Kelly Lynn Thomas, 8/2012

I’ve hung this sketch on my wall, right next to my computer, to remind me that migraines don’t control my life: I do. If you’d like to repost or share it, feel free to. I only ask that you give me credit as the “artist” and post a link back to this site. And of course, if you’d like to print it out and hang it on your wall, I’d be completely flattered.