Amanda Palmer, Tweeting On Health Insurance, Hits A Nerve

Amanda Palmer tweets on health insurance and her ever-reliable fans respond. (Photo:
Amanda Palmer tweets on health insurance and her ever-reliable fans respond. (Photo:

It all started when Palmer, casually reading The Sunday Times and tweeting on the train, came across Nick Kristof's heartbreaking column this weekend about his old friend and college roommate dying of prostate cancer in large part because he had no health insurance (and as a result, continuously delayed medical care until he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer). Palmer writes on her blog that the column moved her deeply:

it hit a nerve with me, and i sent a few musing tweets about my own experiences with insurance…

most small-to-mid-level musicians i know don’t have health insurance. some musicians find tricky ways, some pay, most take the risk & pray.

when i was in my early twenties, buying my own insurance would have been equal half my rent. it just didn’t seem like an option. (cont…)

my parents had just watched the death of my step-brother (uninsured when stricken with a disease) almost destroy the family bank…(cont).

…and so they DEMANDED i get insurance. we fought. they offered to pay half. i agreed. i was lucky. many aren’t. think about it. #AndVote.

…and then people starting musing back at me, in their own tweets, about their own experiences with insurance. i could tell i’d hit somewhat of a nerve with THEM, and then it occurred to me that’d it’d probably lead to a fascinating cross-section of
information if i asked everybody on my feed what their current situation was...

So Palmer decide to conduct a little survey and almost immediately, her 698K Twitter followers began to respond:

quick twitter poll. 1) COUNTRY?! 2) profession? 3) insured? 4) if not, why not, if so, at what cost per month (or covered by job)?

…and my feed EXPLODED. EXPLODED. i found out that twitter has a twitter LIMIT (you can’t tweet more than 100 tweets/RTs in an hour – which is probably to prevent actual pornbots and such) and i went to “twitter jail” twice. but the force of what people wanted to share was unstoppable. i think i probably got more than 2k responses to the question. i only wish that i could have shared every single response, because the story it’s all telling is huge. deep. painful. crazy.

Now, she's heard from teachers and nurses, a British doctor with free NHS care, "thank goodness" and a U.S. writer who lost her coverage when she left an abusive spouse and now can't afford insurance at all. Two breast cancer survivors tweeted that they couldn't get coverage because they are deemed "high-risk." The response was so overwhelming that Palmer recruited a volunteer to help tally the data:

the results, as DM’d to me a few hours ago by @aubreyjaubrey:
– preliminary info from first 156 responses indicates 24.5% of US respondents do not have insurance because of cost.
– 31.4% of responses were from outside of US. all but one person had some kind of compulsory of government supported healthcare – (that one person was denied)
– 24.4% of those abroad have some employer/private insurance for optometry and dental. individual costs from $45-$90/month. around $250/mo for a family.
– based on responses, Germany appears to be the only other country with extortionate health care costs.

The stories on her blog keep rolling in. Here's one:

My husband and I both worked full time and had no insurance for ourselves, but had our daughter covered through public aid for $15 a month. When he noticed an odd swelling/spot on his tounge in 2005, our only option was a pay scale clinic to have it checked out. The waiting list was nearly a month. He waited his time, was seen for a few moments and was quickly diagnosed with an infection and prescribed an antibiotic. He ran the course of antibiotics and there was no improvement, so he made another appointment with the clinic, which was about another month long wait. In the meantime his tongue became pretty frightening and I made him go to the emergency room. They informed us that the spot on his tongue was actually oral cancer. We made all of the necessary appointments, which was quite difficult being uninsured, and were notified that being "cash" patients, we would have to pay for services prior to receiving. We gathered what money we could by selling things and getting help from family. We paid for the scan of his head which showed an extremely small cell on the tongue. The doctor was pretty optimistic in the treatment and recovery. He endured 6 weeks of radiation and could not work. In that time we were able to get him enrolled in public aid and get a medical card. After the radiation, things were looking up until a lump was noticed on his neck. Suddenly now that we had insurance, there were so many tests available to us. They performed numerous tests and revealed that not only did he have oral cancer, but it had spread from his lungs which was now at stage 4. Within 2 months the cancer spread throughout his entire body including his brain. He died 6 months after being first diagnosed with a very small, curable, oral cancer. I get SOOOOO angry thinking that from day 1, if we had insurance, the doctors would have ran all possible tests from the get go instead of waiting for us to raise the funds for a small scan on the concentrated area. I think of all the wasted time spent in line at clinics only to be passed off like we didn't matter. I became a widow at 26 and my daughter is growing up without her father all because of one simple card we didn't have in our wallets.

This program aired on October 16, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Rachel Zimmerman Reporter
Rachel Zimmerman previously reported on health and the intersection of health and business for WBUR. She is working on a memoir about rebuilding her family after her husband’s suicide. 



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