Wednesday, January 15, 2014

My Health Care Secret

Maybe my title should say "and other little secrets" that I am about to make public. Recently many of my colleagues participated in the "SNAP challenge" where they would live on the allotted amount of money a food stamp recipient or their family would receive. I did not participate, mainly because we lived on foodstamps when we first moved here. Our meager savings depleted quickly, we moved during the "end" of the economic down turn, it was difficult for my husband to find full time work that actually offered full time hours each week. He was sent home early more often than not.I have been taught by my culture that being on food stamps is shameful, for losers who want a free ride. Let me say clearly, I have never believed that. I believe that food stamps and other public assistance programs are needed in any culture.  Then there I was in line at the food store with my food stamp card. Most of the time they kept it discrete but not always, "I need help with food stamps over here" has been yelled across the check out lanes when my little card had an issue. I was so ashamed that we needed food stamps, I didn't talk about it, except with a select few people who I deemed safe. Our time using food stamps was just a few months, eventually the hubs found full time work, and we were able to buy food.

Then the health care problem arose. While we were doing much better financially we had to find a way to get health care. Sounds simple right? Wrong. To be a full time student, I must carry at least minimal health coverage. We have a child, I have a family history, I know it is not wise to go uncovered. So, we have found ways in which to get coverage. Coverage offered by my husband's employer is not affordable, it would take half his pay check each month. Buying coverage on our own, also out of the question, he has a preexisting condition, I have one that some count as such. Either way we were risky which made our premiums through the roof. We settled on the student insurance offered through our denomination. Last year we paid $700 a month for coverage that didn't really kick in until we met our high deductibles, so even though we were paying $700 a month, any illness meant that we were facing bills. And where on earth does a student come up with that kind of money every month? Well, I had to take student loans, I will be paying for that insurance for a very long time. Again we know the wisdom or the lack there of in taking on this sort of debt. We simply could not afford insurance and rent with one pay check. I was too far in to quit and if I dropped to half time so I could work and study I would loose my financial aid and our childcare costs would double. It was a rock and a hard place. Then the notice came our premiums would be going up to $805 a month. There was no wiggle room in the budget, panicked we researched options. We still couldn't afford comparable coverage through an employer.

What were we going to do? I found our state's healthcare website for the Affordable Care Act. We will not refer to this as Obamacare on this blog, because it takes the very important, affordable out of the name, something I believe was strategic. I learned that we were at the very least eligible for assistance. I signed up early and fell victim to a computer glitch. One that took me hours to undo and got us coverage just under the wire for 2014. I do not blame the President or a political party for this glitch. I doubt that either was personally responsible for programing software. It turns out our daughter is eligible for free healthcare through the state. The hubs and I are eligible for discounted insurance. I tried to pay for my daughter because it is simply easier to all be on the same plan but it doesn't work like that, so for now we have two different plans. It took some work on my part ... but lets just say this year our insurance will cost less than our rent and utilities combined, which we couldn't say about 2013.

We narrowly avoided a healthcare disaster at the end of 2013. Our kiddo broke her arm, badly. It required two different ERs, a two night hospital stay, surgery, pins, stitches, a cast, slings, a "magic mitten" for showering. Our insurance premium was late (so irresponsible, right?)because if we had paid it we wouldn't have been able to feed said kiddo. Things had gotten tight a few months earlier when I paid tuition thinking that I had a reimbursement coming, that actually wasn't.  Luckily we got the payment in two days after the injury and it was covered. We had to basically empty our bank accounts to pay it and survive the month. Now we will recover from this, but I can easily see how one broken arm could bankrupt a family.I haven't even mentioned the time I would have had to have taken off of work had I not been a student. Do you see how quickly this cycle could swallow a family that was just barely making it?

We have benefited greatly from the new health care. We have been strong believers in health care for all people, especially children. While I certainly think there are flaws in the Affordable Care Act, I think it is a step in the right direction. Here's the thing though, I haven't told many people about how we have benefited. Even though I might have cried a little when I saw how much money we would be saving, and that feeding our kid healthy food might not be so much of a challenge in the coming months. It feels a lot like another dirty little secret. I do not think social media is the place to push our political agendas, our belief systems, in little snippets and conversation that allows for us to cowardly hide behind our screens. I wonder if this blog post is any different. This week though I have been pushed over the edge, too many people have posted about those benefiting from health care, are getting a free ride they don't deserve. Let me say, this is not a response to a single post, article, or blog, but rather a response to a group of voices. 

Here's the thing, I don't feel like my husband and I are lazy people taking a free ride on the backs of our hard working friends. Risking sounding like I am completely self absorbed, I am kind of a highly driven person, I have to be to do what I do. Maybe you feel differently about us, if so then perhaps we weren't friends at all. If you say oh no but you are different, I want to challenge you on that. Are we really? The only thing that I see that makes us different is that we, in theory, will have a chance to raise our income when I finish school. Our "poverty" is because of my education. We do not live in poverty, we know that, I want to make that clear. I understand though that for those who do live in poverty it is an endless cycle, it isn't about being strong enough to pick yourself up and better yourself. Issues of poverty are not black and white, cut and dry. They are complex, no two situations are the same. I spend some of my internship working in a food pantry in a low income neighborhood, I do so humbly, knowing that one missed pay check, would change which side of the counter I stand on.

There you have it, our little health care secret. We are the free loaders clinging to your hard working back. We are the people who didn't go to the doctor before when we should have because we couldn't afford our co pays, so essentially we are the ones that are going to be making it harder to see your doctor. Sorry about that waiting. Thanks for the free ride. Don't worry, in a few years when we have two incomes and I am paying for all that health insurance in loan payments, and my taxes are higher than I have ever seen, I won't be complaining. I will happily pay taxes toward health care coverage because no one's first thought when they see their little girl screaming in pain as her arm flops about, should be "Oh God, the insurance is late, how are we going to afford this?" It wasn't my best moment, but it happened people, we didn't delay getting her care, we took her in minutes to the ER, not knowing how we would pay for it. Luckily it has worked out.

Remember, I am not earning these degrees so that I can get personal gain, I know I likely will not be a millionaire. I am gaining this crazy education so I can serve people. If my tax dollars help pay for someone else's broken arm, cancer, check up, I am OK with that. My tax dollars paying for war is another story and another post.

Today I am grateful for health coverage that isn't putting me in debt, for the privilege of pursuing higher education, and the platform to express my views.

No comments:

Post a Comment