Essay: My healthcare journey.

When I was a freshman in college, the country was abuzz
about the potential Health Care Plan proposed by President and Hillary Clinton.  I was interested in the
plan and followed the story through various media sources.  I remember one news magazine reported that if
the plan passed, coverage would begin in 1997 and it even had a mock-up of what
the medical cards everyone would carry.

“That’s perfect timing.” I thought to myself.  “I will just be getting out of college and my
national health coverage will begin.” 
The moment when I had those thoughts came back to me again and again in
the nearly 20 years that have passed since then.
Growing up, I always had health insurance.  Both my parents were teachers and they made the same trade off so many teachers have over the years:  less pay, better insurance.  The first time I ever heard of someone paying
a $10.00 co-pay I was shocked.  All our
co-pays, for everything, were $5.00. 
Overall, I was pretty healthy growing up, and my health care “needs”
only really began as a teenager, when I started to take medication for acne.  While acne is not a life-threatening health
care need, in our society, a teenager with acne is treated differently than a
teenager without acne.  Both my parents
had suffered through adolescence without a dermatologist, so they were happy I
had the option.
My post-college years included a patchwork of health care
options.  Like many people in their
twenties, I tried on different jobs. 
Sometimes I had coverage (of varying capacities) through my employer,
sometimes I did not.  I also had some
luck.  At a time I did not have health
care I was diagnosed with major depression.  Because I lived in Massachusetts at the time
and I didn’t make a lot of money, nearly all of my treatment was covered.  This was before Massachusetts had moved
toward universal coverage, but even then, the state seemed to fund health
insurance more than others I’ve lived in. 
It was a great feeling of relief when the nice man at the hospital took
my pay stubs, crunched some numbers and told me that I would be paying about
$40.00 per month for my treatment.
Aside from that, my health care needs were few.  When I had a boyfriend, I paid for my birth
control myself—I usually went to Planned Parenthood for that.  I had an accident involving wisteria and my
eyeball that involved an emergency room visit, some drugs, and two visits to an
ophthalmologist.  That was also in
Massachusetts and also nearly fully covered.
Then I turned 27 and soon after had a mysterious patch of
flakes appear on my scalp.  It wasn’t
dandruff, because it was isolated and somewhat scabby. I had no idea what it
was.  I moved to Oregon, leaving
Massachusetts’ excellent health care for the poor behind me.  In Oregon, I started temporary work, and
preparing for graduate school.  My head
got worse, much itchier and more scabby and flaky and finally, I looked up dermatologists
in the phone book, called a few to find out how much they cost and took a long
bus ride to see one of them.
Psoriasis.  It seemed
I had an auto-immune disorder, never a good diagnosis for someone with health
insurance, much less someone without it. 
He proscribed a solution for my head, I wrote him a check for $150.00
and the pharmacist another check for $50.00 and entered into the non-health
care, non-healthy world.  The solution
dialed back the itch and the flakes, but it didn’t stop the spread.  As I continued temping and continued waiting
to begin graduate school I watched as the mysterious scab on my knee never
healed.  It turned out to be psoriasis
too.  And slowly but surely, the psorasis spread
from my head onto my body.
Once in graduate school, I happily paid the extra fee for
health insurance and went to see the campus health services.  They gave me a steroid cream for my legs and
referred me to the teaching hospital on the hill.  The doctor there saw me and prescribed four
different creams, none of which were covered by insurance and all of which were
more than I could afford as a graduate student. 
I didn’t fill them, left the pharmacy in tears and never went back to
the specialist.
As graduate school ended, I found myself in a panic about
the end of my health insurance.  The term
“pre-existing condition” was featured strongly in the health care news.  If I didn’t do something quickly, I was going
to be one of those people with a pre-existing condition and no one would ever
cover me.  Someone told me that if I had
continuous coverage I would not have a pre-existing condition, so I bought a
catastrophic health insurance plan. I paid $125.00 per month through six month
of unemployment, and crossed my fingers that this continuous coverage plan
would work.
I did get a job and entered the land of the fully insured with relief.  It was hard to see a
dermatologist—my health insurance company is great with preventative care and
great with computer records and skimps on the specialists.  When I did see one, he proscribed creams and solutions
and I began to beat back the scabby skin that had spread while I was uninsured.
That was in 2005 and I’ve been insured for seven years now
through my employers.  I’m incredibly
thankful, for I know what it is like to not have health insurance. But the
insurance also holds me hostage to my job. 
The job I had in 2005 was not a good fit and it took me 18 months to
find another one.  Those were a very long
18 months.  Every day I wanted to quit
and every day I got up and went to work because I didn’t want to lose my health
insurance.  Right now, I’m looking to
change careers again.  It would behoove
me to quit my current job and to take a part-time job in my preferred field.  I could do this, and find another part-time
job to make up the difference.  But I
don’t do this, partially because neither one of those part-time jobs will give
me health insurance.
I’ve also flirted with going back to school for a degree in
a different field.  I won’t be doing that
because the program would have me finishing with a crazy amount of loans and
also because I would have to buy my own health insurance.  I’ve done the research and obtained quotes.  If I buy my own coverage, I would be paying $150.00 per month for a plan that did not cover
prescriptions.  I know the full cost
of my prescriptions, for my insurer lets me know how much they have covered every
time I fill one, I would have to pay over $400.00 per month into health
insurance to ensure I could fill my prescriptions.  That wasn’t going to happen.
So I’m partially held hostage by my insurance coverage.  I know I’m not the only one.  How many would-be entrepreneurs stay in their
jobs because the jobs provide the health insurance for their families?  We are not a nimble and quick nation in the
realm of health care.  I write the check
every month for my employer health care plan and I know how much it costs to
keep the eight of us insured. It is an incredible sum.
What would I like?  I
would love a single-payer system, as no one has yet convinced me what the point
of keeping insurance companies if everyone is insured.  Talk about wasteful spending, just think of
all the money that could be saved without all the complex coding.  But I’m happy to settle for living in a
country where my health insurance does not seem like the incredibly tenuous
thing it is now.  I’m hoping the
Affordable Health Care Act will move us in that direction.  But nearly 20 years as an adult with a health problem has made me
wary.

3 thoughts on “Essay: My healthcare journey.”

  1. Dan and I have been amongst America's millions of uninsured since we left Hawaii. Even though his new job offers medical insurance, we can't afford it because we'd have to pay several hundred dollars a month for it. It's so frustrating. We've been lucky so far. I hope we can managed to get ourselves insured before our luck runs out.

  2. I have been very lucky to be insured for most of my life. Boise School District had great coverage for employees (I had no idea that other teachers in other states had to pay for their own insurance) when I started there. We did COBRA when we came out here and then used my grad school's insurance for a bit. Since Shawn was unemployed when we first came he paid his own for a while. He has lived mostly without insurance for huge parts of his life, having a similar experience to yours. He also lived in Canada, loving his experience with nationalized medicine/insurance. Though we are not going to have single-payer care, I am still hopeful for the AHCA. Maybe that is naive in this day and age…

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