On Sunday evening as I was relaxing after dinner, my gallbladder violently rebelled against the meal (scrambled eggs and sautéed zucchini). This would not be worth writing about, except that, for the first time in my adult life, I don’t have health insurance. When, late last year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey informed me that my $600+ per month individual plan rate would increase to $753 (just for me), I knew I was done. My husband is retired with a work-related medical disability, you see, and we were fast approaching financial insolvency as we awaited the resolution of his decade-old workers’ compensation case. (That’s a story worth telling about the kinds of people who can outlast insurance companies in court, but one for another day.)
As I was doubled over in pain and retching in my bathroom, I begged God for relief so that I wouldn’t have to go to the emergency room and possibly have a surgery that would plunge my family into thousands of dollars worth of debt. I thought about the millions of people who have lived this reality for years and felt ashamed of myself for having been so indifferent to their plight for so long. God answered my prayer eventually, but I woke up Monday morning dry heaving from the taste of bile rising in my throat.
I made an appointment with my primary care physician, hoping he would give me the green light to delay the surgery that had been recommended last year until August, when I’ll be eligible for NJ Protect, a federally subsidized health insurance plan for New Jersey residents who have pre-existing conditions, but who haven’t had health insurance for at least six consecutive months. The doctor did give me the green light to wait, along with dietary and homeopathic recommendations and a prescription in case I have another attack. For this, I paid $100.
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Before he came into the room, however, I told his nurse that I would need him to fill out a form for NJ Protect affirming that I have a pre-existing condition. She began grilling me about my situation. “Can’t you get a job?” she asked. “I have a job. I’m an independent journalist,” I said. She wanted to know how I get paid. God only knows why I submitted to this inquest, but I told her I have contracts for steady work, but given the state of journalism (especially since fall 2008 when I moved from California back to New Jersey and began job hunting), it doesn’t matter how hard or much I work, I will never be able to afford $753-a-month for health insurance. I didn’t bother telling her about my supplementary work in catering or substitute teaching, and I didn’t tell her that I’d just been tapped for a coveted vocational school teaching job that I had to decline because of the kind of senseless bureaucratic regulations that many, including me, fear “Obamacare” will usher in.
Her rudeness got me thinking though. What is it, I wonder, about my free-market loving friends that makes them willing to suggest, even by default, that entrepreneurs and small business owners like me will be a drain on our national resources or that we have some sort of moral obligation to take corporate jobs in order to be deserving of affordable health care? I’m not speaking of her, of course, but of the plethora of conservative pundits who rail incessantly against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in the name of freedom. I don’t get it. Are they saying I shouldn’t be free to choose the kind of work that best suits me, my God-given temperament, and the needs of my family? Or that if I do, tough luck when I get sick? If it weren’t for the exorbitant cost of health care, I’d be earning enough income right now to meet my family’s modest financial needs. We can even manage the subsidized plan at $369-a-month now that my husband’s case has settled, but that’s a function of the ACA, so they’d like to deny me that.
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On Tuesday, someone asked me what I thought of the Supreme Court ruling on the ACA. I took a deep breath and said I was glad it wasn’t struck down, because I need affordable health insurance sooner rather than later and the ACA is the engine that will give it to me.
I probably would have opposed it a decade ago when my husband was earning a six-figure income in home improvement sales and we were owners of an apartment building in addition to our own home. But then my husband’s back gave out and he spent several years trying to do other kinds of work before he was forced to retire at age 47. He now lives in crippling pain every day and takes care of the house. His medical expenses will be covered for the rest of his life through Medicare, a supplementary plan that we pay for, and workers’ comp. He’s eligible, in part, for these benefits because he worked outside the home and was injured at work, while I mostly stayed home and raised children for 20 years.
So, what I’d also like to know is why the family values crowd thinks it’s okay to abandon women like me, who bought into their message and eschewed careers, but then had to re-enter the workforce because of death, divorce, or disability without the benefit of a strong work history? Is this really how they want to repay us? You know, the uninsured mothers who serve as teachers’ aides in their children’s classrooms, or bring them their salad at The Cheesecake Factory, or wipe their aging parents’ bottoms so they don’t have to?
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And, what about my fellow pro-lifers? All they seem concerned about when it comes to the ACA is the contraception mandate. Don’t they care about women like me who dropped out of college to have our babies instead of aborting them because we heard and believed their message, but then are forever playing catch up career-wise? Don’t they owe us some level of fidelity for living out what they merely preach? Or did we only matter to them when our stories affirmed their cost-free convictions?
These are serious questions, not accusations. A freedom-loving, family values, pro-life writer is asking them.
Now, I understand that one reason an individual health insurance plan is so expensive in New Jersey is because insurers here are not permitted to discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions and insuring everybody drives up costs. But, I thank God New Jersey is ahead of the curve in this regard. In California, I could not purchase insurance for my son after he was routinely kicked off our family plan as a young adult and then diagnosed with a debilitating, uninsurable condition.
He eventually got well with the help of a generous doctor who treated him on the cheap and a county health service that he still uses because so few specialists take his lousy $190-a-month individual plan. You see, he works for a non-profit organization as a warehouse supervisor, but like many employers, his employer hires most of its workforce for just under the number of hours at which employer-delivered health insurance is mandatory. I know what “government” care looks like and it isn’t pretty, but it’s something and I thank God for it.
I frequently hear insured people say that if the ACA survives, it will mean they won’t have access to timely medical care. This tells me they not only believe they have a right to health care, but that they have a right to the prompt delivery thereof. And yet, they don’t seem to think people like me and my son have any right to it at all. Well, I disagree with them. I need heathcare reform and I think I deserve it, not from “the government,” but from the society that my family and I have contributed to and served for most of our lives. I’m not saying Obamacare is the answer. I’m only saying that we need to solve this problem and the uncaring rhetoric of my conservative friends is speaking so loudly that I’m finding it difficult to hear anything else they’re saying about healthcare reform.*Please note: an editorial change has been made to this article.