Living Without Health Insurance

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I stopped carrying health insurance over five years ago for many reasons that I won’t get into here. It wasn’t a big decision, because I’d done without it for a couple of years when I was between jobs

In any case, when I had it, it was never much use. I was misdiagnosed on a couple of things and ended up having to treat myself. I got to resenting the way some doctors never really listened. I bridled at having my questions treated like the uninformed babble of a simpleton.

And since I had to pay most of the bill for “maintenance” items like vision and dentistry anyway, dropping insurance altogether seemed like the logical thing to do.

That doesn’t mean it will work for you, though. Especially if you have an on-going illness, be sure to do your own due diligence.

Still, if you’re a relatively healthy person, if you’re cash-strapped or need to pay off a debt, or if you want to strike out in a new direction on your own, you might find my tips useful in helping you go insurance-free for a couple of years.

Or even longer.

You’ll worry less about doing without those “bennies” you’ve got used to for so long. And the less worried you are over going it alone, the more you’ll be able to stand up to the big lie of modern life — that people need the government to survive.

They don’t.

Here are ten simple things you can do to prove that to yourself:

1. Inform yourself

Buy yourself a small textbook of anatomy and physiology and learn how your body works. You can find a good one in a second-hand book store or on eBay, but wherever you buy it, try to get an up-to-date edition. If you can, buy a couple.

Make sure your books have good diagrams, pictures, an index, and a glossary. Practice going through the glossary and identifying where major organs are located. Learn the basic chemistry and physics behind vital processes like oxygenation, PH balance, and osmosis.

Buy a hand-book of first-aid and learn how to perform simple first-aid measures, like applying a tourniquet, or dislodging a bone from the throat.

Get a good handbook of nutrition and supplements and familiarize yourself with the vitamins, trace elements, and minerals your body needs to function well. Stock up on them from a reliable supplier. Remember that overdosing can not only be a waste it can be dangerous, so make sure you store your supplements correctly and discard them when they get old.

Cost: Less than $10—15

2. Explore alternative health resources

Buy yourself a handbook of Ayurvedic medicine (ancient Indian medicine), Chinese medicine, or American folk medicine. If you like, buy all three but stick to one when dosing yourself and don’t mix (or confuse) your doses and remedies.

Before treating yourself, make sure to talk to a trained alternative medicine practitioner. Alternative consultations are usually cheaper than a consultation with an allopathic (Western) practitioner, but some of them can be nearly as expensive. Thumb through your local yellow pages, call up different offices, compare costs, ask around, and pay a visit before taking advice. Once you get any advice, research it thoroughly and get at least two other opinions before you make your decision.

Cost: Less than $25 for books, under $40 a consultation

3. Don’t reject allopathic (Western) medicine

There are frauds and quacks in alternative medicine too. Don’t go to the opposite extreme and reject something just because it’s from establishment doctors.

If you need something like an antibiotic, take it. You can buy antibiotics inexpensively from foreign countries that allow you to buy them over the counter. Ask a friend who travels to buy you a couple of courses of an antibiotic you’re familiar with (for example, doxycycline or cipro). Or have a friend send you antibiotics by mail. Make sure they’re packaged well since mail can be tampered with. I like to bring back medicine with me whenever I travel abroad. Indian brands have comparable quality at much better prices, and I don’t have to spend money on getting a prescription.

Keep track of the expiration dates on your pills and discard anything that’s past the date without hesitation. Don’t try to sell, recycle, or give away your supplies. You might be sued or get into trouble with the government, or get framed as a biological terrorist. Don’t buy in bulk. You or your friend could be subject to customs problems.

Remember to take extra vitamins (especially B-complex) when you take antibiotics.

If possible, avoid antibiotics, especially for routine ailments. They damage the body in subtle and not-so-subtle ways and they weaken your body’s natural resistance. Learn how to make yourself a natural antibiotic and use that when you get a bad cold or flu. You can find the recipe for one (and for many other remedies) on alternative health websites, like earthclinic.com.

Note: On the off-chance that you might have a serious problem and need surgery, research and locate a good hospital and a doctor you can trust in a nearby country where medical costs are lower. Mexico and Panama both have excellent medical facilities, at far lower prices than the US. Even with the costs of travel and accommodation, you’re still going to save a lot going abroad for any surgery or expensive treatment you might need.

Also, make sure to increase the personal injury protection coverage on your car insurance to make up for going off medical insurance.

And if you’re really afraid of a one-time emergency ruining you, buy bare-bones coverage just for that.

Cost: Less than $25—35 for medicine and postage

4. Eat fresh nutritious food

Eat less. Eat small, frequent meals. Use half or quarter plates to eat, so your portions look bigger. Drink plenty of plain filtered water (bottled water is an expensive waste and imposes social costs). Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables in season. Eat fish and fish oils. Substantially reduce the amount of red meat and fat you consume, but take into account your genetic and cultural history in figuring out what “substantial is.” If you’re going to go vegetarian, remember you have to be extremely knowledgeable about what to eat to make up for the meat and fish you’ll be missing. If you’re a drinker, keep it moderate (by medical standards, not yours) and try to eat a Mediterranean diet, which seems to work well with alcohol.

Study the benefits of spices like turmeric, chili powder, cinnamon, and cumin, and add them to dishes. Use plenty of onion (raw and cooked), garlic (raw and cooked), and peppers of all kinds. Snack on seeds. Sunflower and pumpkin are especially good and cheap. Eat seed cheeses and sprouts. Take a spoonful of blackstrap molasses daily as an all-purpose supplement. Study the benefits of vegetarian, vegan, and raw food diets and make use of them in your diet, in accordance with your constitution and health. Find out which foods work better cooked and which work better raw. Avoid food combinations that are bad for you. Practice eliminating certain foods from your diet to find out if you’re allergic to something in them. Many serious ailments have nothing more to them than food allergies.

Learn the healthful properties of common household items like hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, apple cider vinegar, and virgin coconut oil, and make them part of your cleansing routine.

Learn simple home remedies for minor emergencies like burns, cuts, and stings. Learn how to make simple home-made casts. Learn how to stop bleeding with herbal tinctures and applications.

Cost: About $35—50, but it will depend on the quantity

5. Exercise as much as you can and include weight-lifting in your exercise program

Your goal is not to become reed thin but to become fit. Keep track of your BMI (Body Mass Index), which tracks the proportion of fat in your body. People with more muscle burn off fat more easily and carry weight better. Putting on muscle and eating nutritiously is a better way to become shapely than cutting calories randomly and running yourself ragged.

Many clubs and gyms offer free one-day passes. Make use of a few to jump-start yourself until working out becomes a habit and you can do it on your own.

For those on tight budgets, try to get yourself free weights or a simple exercise machine. They can be purchased second-hand for as low as $50—100.

If your budget for exercise is zero, try using household items (bean-bags, boxes, jars, heavy bags, bricks, iron bars) as substitutes for weights.

Incorporate more activity into your daily routine. Fidget. Waste energy. Take the stairs two at a time rather than ride the elevator. Go running with friends. Bike to work instead of driving. Turn on music and dance while waiting for food to cook. Take up gardening. (But make sure it’s strenuous and involves digging, carrying stones, squatting and stretching. Pruning roses won’t cut it.)

Walk your dog, or offer to walk your neighbor’s dog. Coach soft-ball or baseball.

For older, less fit people, there are inexpensive clubs that are more easy-going than state-of-the-art clubs and work as well. You can find dozens of good exercise routines on the internet. Get a tape of music with a great beat, spread out a mat, and start making a few moves on your own. Even five minutes a day will make a difference. Then up the frequency.

Avoid buying new clothes when you put on weight. Just suffer the discomfort until you’re forced to shed the extra pounds. Wear form-fitting clothes, so there’s no place to hide.

Go out of your way to make friends with svelte young things (this is advice to women, not men). Nothing like lively twenty-something friends to keep you motivated

Cost: Between $0—200

Buy this book.

6. Keep positive

Surround yourself with healthy, lively, optimistic people, especially young people. It will give you a more youthful attitude and will wipe off the scowls and furrows of middle-age. Young folks also make better friends than competitive peers

Cut back on sensationalism. Keep track of the news on the internet or through reading. Stop watching TV, which is hypnotic and has a much more disturbing effect on your psyche than the print media. Keep informed about the economy, but look for opportunity in the bad news. Don’t just wallow in disaster. It won’t help your finances, and it could hurt them, since we usually get more of what we focus on.

As the good book said, “Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

(Admittedly, there’s not much of any of that going on in the news now, so you may have to look elsewhere for comfort).

Cost: Free

7. Handle stress properly

When you feel stress, listen to music, go for a walk outside, exercise, take a warm bath, or go to sleep. These are actual therapies and are a lot safer and more effective than antidepressants like Zoloft, which have dangerous side effects.

Exercise is by far one of the safest and most effective antidotes to depression.

Along with exercise, water is an easy therapy to add to your health routine. Drinking it, bathing in it, soaking in it, and swimming in it are all good for you. Water can rejuvenate your skin and give relief to your muscles. Remember that sodas and caffeine do not hydrate you. On the contrary, they dehydrate. So drink plenty of water.

Sleep is probably the most underrated therapy of all. It’s not just that problems look much smaller after you’ve had a sound night’s sleep. Your body also heals and rejuvenates itself during sleep. Sleep in a peaceful room with fresh air and no smoke. Don’t overeat, fight, or do anything stressful before turning in. Make sure your back is well-supported by your bed and mattress.

Cost: Free

Buy this book.

8. Breathe

Yes. Breathe. You’d think we’d all do it naturally. But work makes people lead unnatural lives. They hunch over counters and computers all day long, squeeze themselves into car seats and cubicles, and squint at indecipherable numbers under artificial light, their chests and calves constricted by uncomfortable clothes and their lungs clogged by pollution and smoke.

Little shallow gasps don’t feed your blood. Deep slow breathing does Take care to align your body correctly, straighten your spine, center yourself firmly in your solar plexus and breathe slowly and deeply, moving your diaphragm in and out. You may want to take yoga classes to help make it a habit. You’ll be surprised at the improvement in your mood and overall well- being. You may even gain height as your spine stretches.

Cost: $5—15/class for beginner yoga

9. Pray, meditate, visualize

Whatever your religious belief, or lack thereof, a strong spiritual life is good for your health. Spend time alone and get to know your own emotions and thoughts. Feeling your emotions rather than running way from them is the sure way to mental health and freedom from addiction. And addiction — whether to food, or to work, or to gambling, or to spending — is the root of most of our dis-ease today. As someone said, it’s not what you’re eating, it’s what’s eating you.

As you become more attuned to being alone with your own thoughts, you’ll also become more receptive to promptings from beyond your thoughts. What you call those promptings is less important than how much you attune yourself to them. As your conscious life starts drawing more from your subconscious and superconscious, you’ll feel stronger and more “in the flow.” You’ll begin to draw on energy you didn’t think you had.

Cost: Free

10. Don’t go it alone

As a profession, psychologists have the highest rate of suicide and social workers the lowest. There’s a reason why. Analyzing your state of mind and your desires endlessly is the fastest way to depression, anxiety, and neurosis. Take a short trip out of yourself everyday — take up an all-absorbing hobby or a cause you believe in.

Throwing yourself whole-heartedly into something you care about releases you from the pettiness and meanness of the greed-heads, careerists, and opportunists who infest any workplace.

You’ll find that other people have gone through just what you have… and worse. And you’ll find comfort and inspiration in their stories. You’ll make friends who can share your burdens and keep you from the isolation and loneliness that breed disease.

Even more important, make sure to cultivate your closest relationships. Having a spouse, partner, best buddy, or a pet literally strengthens your immune system. Medicine tells us that sex is good for your health. But hand-holding, hugs, and pats — physical and verbal — are just as good. Make sure to get a lot and give a lot

Cost: $0—50/month

It will probably cost you around $250—350 altogether for this simple 10-step program to good health. Considering that you’d have to pay that much for just a month of health insurance, isn’t it worth a try?

Lila Rajiva [send her mail] is the author of the ground-breaking study, The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media (MR Press, 2005), and the co-author with Bill Bonner of Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (Wiley, 2007). Visit her blog.

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