Health insurance, that monster

23 Jan

Health care and health insurance policy heaps up as an entire basket of (smelly) things to write about, but my colleague Gretchen Cuda’s excellent post on her blog has inspired me to write of my own experience among the uninsured.

She writes on Bright Scideas
:

In browsing the Plain Dealer this morning, I came across this article by Diane Suchetka entitled: Healthy Cleveland: Unemployed often unaware of insurance options. Suchetka makes the point that a third of people without health insurance are eligible for free coverage – and most don’t even know it. Frankly, and with all due respect, I have a hard time believing that statement, particularly the latter part.

She goes on to describe her reporting of two women who had struggled with insurance, unfortunately with much more dire consequences than mine. I was lucky, and I know it. Between August 2004 and April 2005, I didn’t have health insurance. I was working. And I knew my options.

When I finished my graduate degree in 2004, I moved to New York City from Indiana. Covered through August, when I called about COBRA, I was told that I could buy into an alternate plan. Great, I thought, until I found out that plan was invalid in New York or New Jersey. Thanks, but no thanks.

I tried for the low income plans. But even though I’d moved from graduate assistant to two low-paid internships, my income was still high enough to disqualify me from Healthy NY, the New York state plan. I’m not sure how I would have afforded the premiums even if I had qualified.

By May 2005, I got myself enrolled in the Freelancers Union plan, and I’ve had health coverage ever since, now through a spousal plan. But since I’ve been living in New York, writing and running in circles of various creative professionals, many people have tales of a $1000+ trip to the emergency room. Or, even worse, I attended a benefit last year for a creative type who had pancreatic cancer– yep, you guessed it– no health insurance.

I dodged that nightmare. Fortunately, I’m healthy. My nine months among the uninsured cost me nothing. But I’ve had many conversations with friends and colleagues about how health insurance has driven their job and career decisions. A few months ago a colleague spoke wistfully of her desire to freelance. What was stopping her? Concerns about health insurance.

Now with jobs evaporating and unemployment rates staggering, the problems in the system have moved well beyond a lack of awareness. The system is sick, and it needs to be fixed. Bravo, Gretchen.

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