Essentially Ashland: By Lance K. Pugh

Whether you have it or not, health insurance is a very expensive proposition. Every year the price and deductible goes up and your coverage goes down, leaving you with a distinct depression, which does not seem to be covered sufficiently.

Some months ago while anguishing over another insurance increase, one of our dreams was answered. Our deductable, premium and co-pays were reduced to zero "¦ because we were being dropped by our insurer of a decade, using an excuse that would take the Supreme Court to interpret. It was just as well, we guessed, as my wife's professional organization offered a better plan. A month later we were told that the insurer was discontinuing coverage for her organization, leaving thousands of members facing potential bankruptcy if they stubbed the wrong toe.

Keeping on a brave face I began to research to find new coverage. What I found out froze the marrow in my bones and caused me to fall into bouts of cold sweat:

Obtaining new coverage resembles the heydays of buying a new car. You had to decide on a make and model, wrestle with a hundred accessories, then negotiate on the whole as if it were an omelet getting cold on the kitchen table. Be sure to bring plenty of napkins because it is going to be messy. Hold the toast and jam as you will not be able to afford them.

I was confident that I could figure out the options, costs and conditions, so I went on the Web and began my search. I learned that it is nearly impossible to get coverage if you have seen your doctor for any reason during the last five years. Nor do policies abound if you are not a member of the high school track team or weigh more than 5 pounds over that of a normal person your height who has been on a juice fast for two months. May someone of stature forgive you if you are on any medications whatsoever, have ever had any form of surgery or even discussed any aches and pains with your physician.

After examining hundreds of plans from dozens of insurers, I thought that I had hit the jackpot, though some tradeoffs were that it came with a $5,000 deductable, a limit of two doctor visits per year, no prescription coverage and a very high co-pay. Dental and vision also were noticeably absent, which, at first, I didn't detect as I was sucking on a clove for a throbbing tooth while hunting for my reading glasses, which seem to scurry and giggle from room to room, always just around the corner.

I should have sensed that all was not roses as the plan made it mandatory for me to pay for coverage for eyeglasses and pregnancy (that I am a male did not even register to the agent), while insisting that I drive through my dentist's parking lot at least once a year. It covered prescriptions with a co-pay higher than the cost of the medicine, while screening me only for malaria, gout and measles.

After only a few days on the phone with an agent, we came up with a plan that would fit the budget: Major surgery was covered, but anesthesia was not. You had to leave the hospital within three hours of surgery and find your own way home in a wooden wheelchair. The usual pain associated with the procedure was to be masked by a single ibuprofen, cut in thirds, which was sold to you for $23 in cash. Stitches were to be removed by a pair of pliers and questions to any medical personnel were to be sent by postcard, phone calls not being covered or permitted. As a nutritional bonus you were shoved out the electric doors with a doggie bag quarter-filled with little squares of green Jell-O, to serve as a remembrance of your catered stay.

The only factor that made the plan truly affordable was the odd/even clause. My wife was covered on even days and I was covered on odd days. The dog got coverage on the last day of the month.

Lance@journalist.com was last seen dressed in hockey gear while sitting in his home office, there to hopefully avoid any health/accident claims.