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Health Care: Friend or Foe?

When I was twenty-five and working at a job that was grueling and thankless and rendered me suffering from stress-induced stomach aches, I eventually decided I’d had enough and I quit. I was engaged at the time, and living with my fiancé. We were to be legally married three months later.

When I told my mother I’d quit my job, the first words out of her mouth were, “What about health insurance?” I might have replied that I’d quit for my health, but I can’t remember. I’m sure I told her that my fiance’s company, in their overwhelming generosity, had offered to pay my COBRA fees for the three months until his insurance would cover me as his spouse. Since I spent the next several months working as a substitute teacher, the $300/month would have been a massive burden. I was very, very lucky. (On the flip side, how unlucky was I that I lived in a place that didn’t recognize common-law partnerships?)

Six months after we got married we moved to Canada, where my husband grew up. And that is why I am able to live the life I want to live, to make the living I want to make.

Because my health insurance is no longer tied to my job.

Oh, and it’s affordable.

And good.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time, you might have an idea about how much I’ve required significant healthcare in the last couple of years. Enough that I now have a sufficient medical history that should I ever get pregnant again I likely wouldn’t cross the border at all, in deference to my pre-existing conditions and the pesky travel insurance that might not hold up in the face of complications.

Annie Modesitt has urged me to write about how having guaranteed health insurance has affected my work life, and all I can say about it, really, is that it has made my work possible. End of story. If I need or want to move on in my career, I can do so in my own time, at my own pace, in my own way. If I get pregnant, I’ll be a high-risk case from conception but I won’t have a financial concern about it. Which seems pretty right to me; my concern should be about my health.

In April, if I’ve had a good year, the Canadian government will take more of my money than the U.S. government would if I were living there, and I pay every dime of it with gratitude.

Yes, I’m a lefty and I believe very strongly that people have certain fundamental rights, but my personal experience has nothing to do with my politics. It has everything to do with my own quality of life. Not having to worry about health insurance allows me to be happy in my work in ways I couldn’t be otherwise—not with how variable a freelancer’s living is. It allows me to see a doctor when I need to, without a co-pay, and without concern about paying for tests she wants to run. It allows me to pursue any professional interest I have without going through the gatekeeper of traditional employment. It makes my health concerns my personal concerns, not something I have to argue about with pencil-pushers over the phone. Ever.

So maybe I will make this a little bit political. For the first time in many years, an administration that is open to providing universal health coverage will be in power in the U.S. Regardless of your political leanings, think hard about what you would personally gain from such a thing.

(P.S. It’s a fallacy when opponents to universal health care say the result would be that everyone would get the lowest-denominator, shittiest care. In most of the rest of the industrialized world, people enjoy government-supported health care. Yes, everyone has gripes; no system is perfect. But I’ll take this imperfect system over the pain- and stress-inducing American system any day.)

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knitgrrl

Brilliant. Just brilliant.

Annie

When our health insurance expires in June (I tremble as I write that – where are a current terminal cancer patient and a cancer survivor going to get coverage…?) we don't know what we'll do.

I tell my kids we're counting on plan B. B for Barack.

Julie

You did it again. You choked me up. I am currently living in fear that my husband's job is at risk considering he is working for a small business working in retail that is facing a tough economy just like the rest of us. We not only need the basic care most would like, but one of our family members requires special care annually and lives with the threat of critical surgery looming st some unknown time in the future. If anything did happen, I doubt I would be able to continue my business as a freelancer. So, everyone…please buy books!! Lots and lots of books.

Kim Werker

Annie – I really don't even know what to say. I very much hope not just that Obama, but that Congress and the Americans who keep them in office come through.

Julie – Yes, let's all buy lots and lots of books! (So I say as I plan to go to the bookstore tomorrow for all of my last-minute shopping.)

ncavillones

Timely blog post! Now that we have Alice, I worry too about the health insurance because the hubby's current job is looking sort of touch'n'go lately, and I'm not so confident that he'll find a job right away. I'm pretty sure that I can at least keep A's vaxes up to date but in terms of regular, preventative care… I'm nervous. I would gladly pay more in taxes if it meant that our healthcare would follow us.

Amy

Amen! I am in the odd position of having complete coverage, like you, Kim while living in the US. Military health insurance isn't perfect, but it is good and it's free. The US already knows how to do this, they just need to do it for the whole country.

kjtendyke

This is exactly why I still work a 40 hour week… I freelance tech edit, and have had to turn down SO many job offers because I only tech edit part time on weekends. There are many things, in addition to wanting to freelance, that are encouraging me to leave my hour-long commute behind… but health insurance keeps me there… at least for now.

When I began reading this I was seriously considering moving to Canada. Everything just seems to make much more sense up there. But I guess I will wait it out a little longer to see if Obama and his team can really do some good for us freelance-wannabe's.

Anon

I don't want to post my health info on the web with an identifying name attached. But, I want to put a few numbers out there.

Last year, I had a health crisis and was diagnosed with a chronic condition that I will battle for the rest of my life. Because it was not discovered until it made me very ill and caused me severe pain, I tried a number of medications and was hospitalized off and on until a surgery was able to be done which put me in a “remission” state.

I was hospitalized for a total of 42 days. The average rate per day can be estimated at 40,000 (probably more for the uninsured but hard to judge because insurance companies pay greatly reduced rates). The total hospital bill for those 42 days would have been 1.68 million dollars (and that's a fairly conservative estimate). This does not even factor in a fair number of ER visits, doctor visits, imaging tests, etc.

I am now on a number of medications but the main one that keeps my condition in check would run approx. $28,000 a year without insurance vs. the $1,200 I pay with insurance. This is for one expensive (but wonderfully useful) drug.

Can you imagine having to find an extra $30,000 or more in income to maintain one's current life AND pay for necessary medication? Even without a recession, one person (especially one who has been seriously ill) cannot find this sort of extra money.

I dream of the day that I don't have to worry about insurance coverage.

Kim Werker

I dream of that day for you. Thank you for sharing your story.

Amy J.

Another really messed up thing about the US health system is, as best I can describe it, the 'soft' price structure. For instance, for a non-insured person, a one-night hospital stay might run you ~$6,000. However, if you have insurance, the insurance company will probably be able to negotiate the price down to say $1,500 (a significant amount usually), of which you'll be responsible for a certain percentage depending on your coverage. So, if you're not insured you're doubly screwed–you don't have any negotiating power to 'lower' the price AND you're stuck with the entire bill!

Ron Stone

KIm you are right on — it is way overdue that we have medical care as one of the “benefits” of the tax shake down.
I tire of people parroting the “low quality” of the National Health Care system when we already wait an absurd amount of time in present American emergency rooms and walk-in clinics.

Ron Stone

KIm you are right on — it is way overdue that we have medical care as one of the “benefits” of the tax shake down.
I tire of people parroting the “low quality” of the National Health Care system when we already wait an absurd amount of time in present American emergency rooms and walk-in clinics.

Ron Stone

KIm you are right on — it is way overdue that we have medical care as one of the “benefits” of the tax shake down.
I tire of people parroting the “low quality” of the National Health Care system when we already wait an absurd amount of time in present American emergency rooms and walk-in clinics.

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