Why I Have Health Insurance—and Still Need Obamacare

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This post originally appeared on xoJane.affordable care act

Eight years ago, when I left a copyediting job in a publishing house to go freelance, my mother was aghast.

“But what are you going to do about health insurance? You need health insurance!”

At the time, I was 25 and had the delusional belief that the invincibility youth affords. I believed health insurance was effectively taking several hundred dollars a month of my hard-earned income and flushing it down the toilet. At the time, I was still living with my parents in Gravesend and if I was going to be spending money on anything, it was to get the heck out of there and into my own place.

Eventually, I acquiesced, getting the most affordable group health insurance rate I could find through an Editorial Freelancers Association. As far as I was concerned, it was “in case I was hit by a bus” insurance–I’d never actually use it, but I’d have it just in case. Issues like limited drug coverage and high deductibles didn’t even register on my radar.

Until it became everything.

About 18 months ago, I was returning from a press breakfast when I was overcome by an unspeakable pain in my back and neck. It was the kind of pain where I couldn’t walk–couldn’t move–out of nowhere. I took an Excedrin, assuming I had pulled a muscle while holiday shopping–and promptly vomited and passed out on my bathroom floor.

Luckily, my mother had come to see me and found me a short time later and got me to the hospital. It turned out a vein had burst in my uterus–and the pain I felt was more than half the blood in my body pooling in my now-distended belly. I had to have emergency exploratory surgery (the scars haunt me to this day) — and I spent nearly three days unconscious in ICU.

By all accounts, it’s a miracle I’m alive. In fact, I hear my doctor got a sweet passage into a medical journal because of my case. But side effect of being alive is an absolutely suffocating level of debt.

My medical insurance covered my surgery and hospital stay–following the meeting of a $5,000 deductible. About six months after my first surgery, I needed another one–and another hospital stay–it was technically another calendar year–so it was another $5,000. All this time, I was paying $300+ a month in health insurance, and yet, somehow I still owe $10,000 in medical bills.

Speaking as a freelancer who spent much of the last year with limited mobility and access to our sources of income, I can’t even begin to say how much this has destroyed my savings. In fact, I no longer have any savings to speak of.

I speak to my friends around the world, and they are mystified that America — this allegedly great nation–is a place where people literally have to choose between their livelihood and their life. A place where people who can’t afford healthcare die every day.

Many people–millions of people–already have health coverage through their employers. They may or may not care about Obamacare. But it gives them an option–to choose a plan they like better, that is more affordable. One that will now cover prescription drugs, mental health care–many things that used to be optional and now aren’t.

We shouldn’t be afraid to go for yearly skin cancer screenings or routine checkups because we are afraid of a staggering bill. Fear of spending money on the doctor can kill us. It may have killed me–maybe if I was smarter and better about going for regular checkups, I’d have not gone through the hell I went through. What I’m still going through.

I’m not very much into politics, generally. But I’m into the people I love sticking around–and with the Affordable Care Act, no one can be turned away from health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or how much money they make. And everyone below a certain income level is going to going to finally get access to free or discounted health care–and options to shop around and choose the plan right for them. Hopefully, in time to get their life in order.

I think even with this act, the American health care system has a really long way to go (what we are getting with Obamacare is simply a watered-down version of what much of the rest of the world already has for free)–but, still, you know, it’s better than being buried. (Or buried in debt, as it is.)

More From xoJane

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Survey Says: Most of Us Live Paycheck to Paycheck. Surprised?
What Is ‘Zombie Debt?’ How to Avoid Paying Something You Don’t Actually Owe

  • Lisa

    This is an excellent article and it brings up such an important topic. I am half Danish, and talk with my Danish family about this topic–and they are absolutely mystified by our system. It makes no sense to them! We have a false sense of security with our insurance plans, believing they will keep us out of debt and protected in a worst-case scenario. As you have pointed out, this is far from the truth. Like you, I hope Obamacare is able to fill the void and give people the coverage they need and deserve.

  • Sheena Nix

    Great and inspiring piece! I agree that America is in dire need of changes to our entire healthcare system. I’m really hoping some Americans can feel relief from this. However, it has sadly become more about politics than helping people live. I, for example, am actually TOO POOR for the ACT subsidy (aka “obamacare”) See, in order to qualify for the subsidy, one must make between 100-400% of the poverty level, and as someone who returned to school last year and only worked a few days a week, I actually did not make enough to qualify. Now, I’m not knocking the ACA, my problem lies at the state level. See, I live in Alabama and the governor here, republican Robert Bentley, sees the funds offered from the federal government to expand Medicaid, as “handouts” and refuses to accept the funds, this expanding Medicaid for people like myself, who made less than 11500. I do not see myself as someone ” expecting” a government handout! I am insured through a private company and have been paying my premiums out of pocket for years. My schooling is paid for ny a scholarship. I don’t expect anything from the government, except access to affordable care! I think there are 20- something othey governors who refuse to expand Medicaid. What I guess I’m trying to say is, this has all become political and people are suffering and dying because of people in Washington being too pig headed to cooperate and we, as Americans, need to take it upon ourselves to educate ourselves about these people and vote them out of office!

    • LG

      That’s Alabama for you, always has been, and I’m afraid always will be, behind the times.

    • Kay

      The Government is NOT responsible for providing affordable healthcare.

      • Sheena Nix

        I did not SAY they were responsible for providing affordable healthcare. I said they should PROVIDE ACCESS TO affordable healthcare… as in, by creating legislation to protect Americans from the hugely profitable healthcare providers and providing a competitive healthcare exchange comprised of private insurers…. as they are doing. There is a huge difference between what I said and what you are trying to imply that I said.

        • Kay

          “I don’t expect anything from the government, except access to affordable care!” You kinda did. “I …don’t expect anything… except
          access to affordable health care!”

  • cathy

    For all those people out there who think the new healthcare is for freeloaders…. I pay $6000 per year for health insurance and still have a $5000 deductible and I have pre existing conditions so unless i get hit by a bus my ridiculously expensive insurance company has already protected themselves in every single way possible against paying me for any claim. So, while I am forced to bankrupt myself, annually, just to keep health insurance, I will be forced to bankrupt myself should I actually have something wrong with me. I am a 49 year old, non smoking person who exercises every day and has kept the same normal weight for over 20 years. Also,PLEASE stop calling it ObamaCare. That is a negative term made up by detractors to slam it. Call it Congress Care if you don’t like it, they passed the bill.

    • Sheena Nix

      Cathy! A beautiful voice of reason! It agitates me too, the term, “Obamacare” A lot of people think it’s an actual tangible thing…. as though one can go out and obtain it. I hate having to explain myself repeatedly that no one is getting and “obamacare” It’s not a thing…. it’s a set of laws, regulations and guidelines, people…. read!!! Thanks for putting to words what I’ve felt for a long time. It’s the ACA! Rawr! :D

    • Kay

      The Affordable Care Act is not likely to be the answer to your prayers. If the government is to be involved at all, it should be to regulate the industry and prevent abuse by Insurance companies, not by forcing individuals to purchase coverage they do not want or need. A fine for having no insurance is fine, coverage of kids until 26 also fine, cover pre-existing fine, but DO NOT penalize me because I do not have maternity coverage (I am done with that phase of life) or because I do not have prescription coverage (I don’t need that yet but will buy when I do) and don’t ultimately tax me additionally to help the less fortunate, I am already taxed for my share of keeping society running and I get to choose which charities I want to support. We do need change but OBAMACARE is NOT the answer. (FYI, my deductible is also $5000 – now – with OBAMACARE, it will be higher).

      • Boo

        So you’re happy to have “kids” under 26 on your coverage, but not maternity?

        So should one of those “kids” get pregnant, who then has to pay for their maternity expenses?

        Please. DO TELL.

  • Christine

    With regard to your comment “what we are getting with Obamacare is simply a watered-down version of what much of the rest of the world already has for free” – you do realize that nothing is “free,” right? I am not disagreeing with you that the United States needs more progressive policy to fix our healthcare system, but the general population of every country with a national healthcare system pays for it in higher taxes. The ACA is paying for the healthcare subsidies through a medical device tax and a tax at tanning salons, among others.

    • Sheena Nix

      There should be a tax for tanning salons, just as there are taxes for alcohol, tobacco, and other substances that have been proven to lessen one’s level of health…..

      • Sheena Nix

        It is also worth noting that the medical device manufacturing industry is a complete oligopoly that enjoys unnecessarily high profits. Because there are only limited manufacturers available they all keep the prices high and the quality as low as will pass… think about your cable company… this is another great example of oligopolies at work. In other words, the medical device manufacturers will be just fine in spite of the tax and so will the tanning salons….

        http://medcitynews.com/2012/12/why-will-2013-be-bad-for-med-device-companies-hint-its-not-the-tax/

  • Kay

    The $10k you owed in addition to premiums was what you signed up for; not some big “somehow” surprise. You may receive a subsidy now but only because people like me will be paying MORE, tell that to my kids. I would choose to spend any “discretionary income” on MY children; not your parents children. I will still be scared to go to the Doctor with Obamacare, even more so because now the government is involved. I buy my own insurance on the open market and guess what, it will now be more. I have a high deductible (which I keep set aside for just in case) and guess what? It will actually be even higher AND my premium will be higher. Talk about a disincentive to succeed in life, the more you work and the more you succeed and the more that success results in higher income, the more you get to give to other people who for whatever reason and I mean WHATEVER reason are not earning as much. It is not worth it. It is now a better deal to sit on my butt to minimize the penalty I pay for working hard. I still won’t qualify for a subsidy – yet!

  • Michele

    I am always amazed when someone thinks they should get something for nothing. Paying $300/month or $3,600/year (tax deductible by the way) when you most likely incurred thousands of dollars in healthcare costs. Someone HAS to pay for this. Where does everyone think the money is coming from to pay for this? You should be thanking your Mother profusely because the debt you would have had without that insurance would be enormous. With “Obamacare” my premiums will double! Who is going to help me pay for my insurance..no one, but me. Also Friends who live here and come from countries with socialized healthcare do not speak well of it. They have told me anyone who seriously needs care and has money is coming to this country otherwise you wait in line before you are treated. It becomes a system of the haves and the have not’s. I wish people would educate themselves more before it is too late. Also President Obama actually said to Mitt Romney in the last Presidential debates that he LIKES the term “Obamacare”.