still we go on pretending stories like ours have happy endings


I got a call today that I expected but was still sad to receive. A month or so ago I applied through my employer for Long Term Care insurance. It's something I'd never thought of until my last two grandparents passed away, both in need of medical care and assisted living. Once I realized I could apply for LTC insurance through my employer, I became a bit obsessed. I'm in a place right now where I'm looking to my future, and what it might look like if nothing changed too drastically from how it is today. I know that seems ridiculous--I'm still in my 20s, how could I possibly think life won't change? But I own my place and like my job and love my cats, so short of something really unexpected, there's reason to believe I might continue down my current path--which would be great! I'm happier than I've been in a very long time.

So when I look to the years when I'll be elderly, I want to be prepared to take care of myself. I'm the youngest in my immediate family, so there's no guarantee anyone will be around or be able to take care of me or provide the help I may or may not need when the times comes. I've tried talking about this with some friends, and a few of them have had very strong reactions. They asked why on EARTH would I be worrying about this already? What a downer! The short answer is in two parts: 1) I'm terrible at saving money, and 2) I don't want to have to worry about how I'll pay for medical bills or hospice or a wheelchair or whatever when I'm retired. Maybe it's partially to do with the fact that I've been hospitalized and paid big bills and needed physical therapy aids like a walker and a shower chair. I've seen a glimpse of that life, and while I can't know that's what I'll need when I'm old, I don't want to worry about it. God knows if I will need lots of medical care when I'm old, and it's even half as hard to live through at 75 as it was as a 25, money concerns should not have to be on my mind.

LTC insurance would make sure I have a little nest-egg of money ready for me when the time comes, money I'll have invested in making sure the last season of my life isn't one spent stressed about health-related funds and taking care of myself. I've even looked up nursing homes to compare rates! I felt so much security and satisfaction in knowing 28 year old Maryann was looking out for 70 or 80 year old Maryann. My dad always reminds me to be my own best advocate, and this felt like a manageable and mature way to do that.

I was completely honest on my work's LTC insurance application, somehow confident that my employee status would make it virtually impossible for them to refuse me. So when a letter arrived last week saying I'd been declined coverage, I was pretty shocked. I thought they'd at least offer me a plan with higher premiums before denying me outright. But no. Their reasons for declining coverage: my spina bifida and depression. I was surprised that these two issues would be such major factors, since they are both under control and successfully treated.

I'm doing so well with both of them that I had the foolhardy confidence to think they wouldn't keep me from something as standard and everyday as LTC insurance. I mean, the chances of me a) living to old age and b) needing medical help/assisted living are fairly chance-y to begin with! Plus, I'm offering to give them money every month for the next 50 some years--would my spina bifida and depression cause issues in my old age all that different from the most common elderly needs? Apparently. Never mind that I could easily die in a car crash or a have a middle-age heart attack or trip over a cat and die on the floor of my bathroom and they would get to keep all that cash and not have to give me any of it back.

Shortly after the letter arrived so did an e-mail from my employer's insurance consultants with good news: I had only been denied by one company! They could send a generic form to all their other partner companies that offer LTC insurance. So with "cautious optimism and guarded hope" I submitted another application. Today I got a phone call from the consultant saying no companies would offer me a quote due to my spina bifida. "I told them you were back at work and in full recovery, but they still decided to decline." I could hear the sympathy in this sweet woman's voice, and with a giant lump in my throat I thanked her "for fighting for me."

Even though this isn't the end of the world, I'm feeling discouraged and disappointed. I wanted to try to prepare for the future and make a sacrifice that could help me take care of myself so I wouldn't be a burden on anyone else (or have to feel like one). So I could be confident in the knowledge that if even if I grow old without a family of my own, I'd be taken care of by younger past self who wanted old Maryann to spend her retirement savings on a tour of Venice or a bright purple couch instead of an oxygen tank or memory care.

If nothing else happens first, dying of old age is inevitable, and I just wanted to do something to make it even a little less scary to face, especially alone. How fitting, I suppose, that a birth defect (and the depression worsened by it) would be the thing to keep me from trying to prepare  for my death.

I've been soaking up a lot of Ellen Bass poetry lately, and this poem is one I'll be sitting with this weekend.

If You Knew

What if you knew you'd be the last
to touch someone?
If you were taking tickets, for example,
at the theater, tearing them,
giving back the ragged stubs,
you might take care to touch that palm,
brush your fingertips
along the life line's crease.

When a man pulls his wheeled suitcase
too slowly through the airport, when
the car in front of me doesn't signal,
when the clerk at the pharmacy
won't say Thank you, I don't remember
they're going to die.

A friend told me she'd been with her aunt.
They'd just had lunch and the waiter,
a young gay man with plum black eyes,
joked as he served the coffee, kissed
her aunt's powdered cheek when they left.
Then they walked half a block and her aunt
dropped dead on the sidewalk.

How close does the dragon's spume
have to come? How wide does the crack
in heaven have to split?
What would people look like
if we could see them as they are,
soaked in honey, stung and swollen,
reckless, pinned against time?

- Ellen Bass, from The Human Line


theresa clare said...

That is bullshit. I hate that needing medical care excludes people from getting it. It's so entirely backward. Also, I applaud your looking ahead. Of course people our age should.

Kara said...

Since you are so young, you could self-insure by taking that same $ that you would have spent on the policy and saving it for when you need LTC. You'll probably end up saving $ that way.