There are now more than thirty million American citizens who cannot get coverage. In just a two year period, one in every three Americans goes without health care coverage at some point. And every day, 14,000 Americans lose their coverage. In other words, it can happen to anyone.
But the problem that plagues the health care system is not just a problem of the uninsured. Those who do have insurance have never had less security and stability than they do today. More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you’ll lose your health insurance too. More and more Americans pay their premiums, only to discover that their insurance company has dropped their coverage when they get sick, or won’t pay the full cost of care. It happens every day.
Barack Obama, September 9, 2009
I will return to local issues tomorrow, but the undeniable story of moment-is President Obama’s Wednesday night address to the joint session of Congress.
There are plenty of other people who are commenting well—and poorly—on Obama’s speech (which, for the record, I thought was a game changer), so instead, I want to say something personal here.
Like many Americans, I pay a fortune for health insurance.
It doesn’t matter that I have never (knock on wood) been ill, other than occasional colds and rare bouts of the flu—for which I never, I mean never-— go to the doctor.
My only trip to the hospital in my adult life was to have my wonderful son, Will, nearly 24 years ago.
I pretty much show up in medical offices solely for my single yearly check-up and about once every ten years when I get a nasty case of poison oak (and that only when the dog strays into the stuff without my knowing it).
Furthermore, my weight is on the low side of normal, I exercise regularly, have great cholesterol, perfect blood pressure and no chronic conditions.
Yet, although I have good health, and a gazillion dollar deductible, I pay through the nose every month. Why? Because I’m self employed—which means that my insurance is two or three times the cost of what one pays through an employer. And I am middle-aged. Late middle aged, if I am to be honest.
But that isn’t the most vexing part. Not only is my health insurance—which happens to be Blue Shield—absurdly expensive, it pays for almost zero, unless something truly hideous happens to me. Then, once my deductible is used up, it is supposed to pay most of the bills.
(Operative phrase “supposed to.” We have all heard the horror stories. Many of us know somebody or several somebodies who have lived through the horror stories.)
Moreover, even things that Blue Shield, used to pay for, like yearly mammograms, they have found new ways to get out of. And certainly my insurance doesn’t cover common sense preventative care. For instance, although as a small-boned, slender woman I am the potential poster girl for osteoporosis, my insurance company wouldn’t dream of paying for a baseline bone density scan—although, as a preventative measure, it is likely to save long term costs, not to mention heartache. (I just had one and was thankfully informed I have the spine of a 25-year old. For now, anyway.)
Except for part of one yearly check-up I pay for all doctor visits, plus any of my preventative tests, the diagnostic sonograms that my mammographer rightly advises, my eye exams to make sure that nothing creepy like glaucoma is lurking, whatever—all entirely out of pocket. As I said, my insurance will pay for (most) of one yearly doctor visit. But, if every other year I think it wise to be checked by both an internist and a gynecologist—fuggedaboudit. And any kind of specialist? You must be joking.
If, heaven forbid, I ever do get actually, even marginally sick, or find some suspicious spot on my arm that needs to be removed and biopsied, or maybe get some test for some recently acquired allergy, I fear that my insurance will really go sky high. Or if something worse than that happens, they’ll try to drop me.
So quite frankly I notice that put off having some of the exams, or tests, or check-ups that I know I should have—because there is that niggling, back-of-the-mind worry about my insurance doubling or worse, like my close friend’s did, just because she got a prescription for an inhaler for those occasional moments when she’s at someone’s house and has a mild allergic reaction to cat dander.
Yet, I know I’m churlish to complain at all. I am, after all, one of the incredibly lucky ones. I have health insurance. And I make a respectable amount of money doing work I love— teaching, book writing, and nattering journalistically about issues of social justice— so I can afford my ever-rising premiums and the mortgage on my canyon house, and life’s other necessities.
Millions of other Americans work long hours at one or more jobs, but don’t make enough to afford to pay insurance premiums. This means if they can scrape together the money to take their kids, or themselves, to the doctor, they go. When they can’t, they put it off. Sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Still other Americans—some of them my close friends and family members,—have fought cancer or some other serious illness. Now they are uninsurable on the open market because they once had the bad sense to get sick. If they don’t have jobs that force insurers into carrying them, or spouses with similar jobs—or if they lose their jobs, God forbid—they are screwed.
So, yes, I want health care reform that would make it illegal to deny coverage for preexisting conditions. And I also want the public option.
I’d like to buy into some kind of insurance that doesn’t charge usurious rates, or jump in price by 30 percent or more per year, and doesn’t have a zillion dollar deductible. I would like that insurance to pay—with a non-stratospheric co-pay—for my ordinary doctor visits, and for whatever sensible preventative treatments or tests my test-conservative doctor thinks necessary.
I also want to be able to go to a physician without always having to weigh the larger, long-term fiscal consequences, when going would be the wise and healthful thing to do.
I want that for me, for my son, my nephew, and many of their friends, and for a pile of my own best friends, all of whom also work their butts off, pay their taxes, and either run small business or are also self-employed. And I want it too for the 30 million fellow Americans who cannot get coverage at all, and the many million more who are under insured.
I don’t think it’s too much to ask. I really don’t.
UPDATE: Two USC/Annenberg grad students—Len Ly and Hillel Aron— watched Obama’s health care address along with patients waiting for care at two different LA emergency rooms. Clever idea.
*Note: I managed to insert some strange moment in coding that erased nearly a fully paragraph from an earlier version of this post, making that section of it confusing to read. Obviously it’s corrected now.