Anthony Calafiura, Hunter College

My name is Anthony Calafiura, and I am a current freshman at Hunter College. In the month of October during 2021, I was committed into the psych ward following a failed suicide attempt. I was there for 14 days and being there did genuinely help me feel better until I was hit with the bill after. Thankfully, I was under my estranged father’s insurance but even then I am still currently over 3000 dollars in debt. My mother has refused to help me pay so I’ve essentially had to deal with this all on my own. I was 17 at the time when I was committed so when I tried reaching out to the hospital, there was not much I could’ve done myself. Talking to the hospital people regarding the debt has felt like going around in a circle that ultimately ended in a dead end without genuine help. By the time I was 18, it had already been more than 6 months so my debt was then transferred to a debt collection agency.

For a while, I was scared to reach out because of how long it had been since my hospitalization and even if I wanted to back then, I did not know where to start or what to do. I had many questions that the majority of the people around me simply did not know the answer to. This whole situation has caused me so much stress and in fact was and still is making my mental health worse which is the antithesis of the reason why I’m even in debt. Every time I open my mailbox, every time I receive an 866 call because I’ve come to know that is the debt collection agency’s number, every time I receive a reminder text, a shock of anxiety goes through me. Due to all of this, there has formed a lingering resistance, and even slight fear, of going to the doctor because of the bill that will come after.

It’s important for stories of medical debt to be talked about because for the most part it has felt like I’ve been going through this alone when over 23 million people, around 1 in 10 Americans, have significant medical debt. There needs to be a push in schools for the complex system of health insurance and debt management to be taught because these are very real and necessary skills that I could’ve really used and would still use today. The healthcare system in America needs drastic changes. People should not be forced into debt with little knowledge on what to do after in order to get genuine mental or physical help that they deserve.

Nerely Galarza, City College of New York

I am a 34-year-old woman who after many years of fighting with the hospital finally cleared my medical debt. My story began when I was in high school. I was 15 years old when I was diagnosed with ovarian cysts and fibroids in my uterus. Due to the number of fibroids and the recurring cysts I had to constantly be medically supervised. It wasn’t a financial issue until I became over age and my father’s insurance did not cover me. My visits to the GYN became more frequent the older I became and I did not have medical insurance. The medical bills started coming in faster than I could pay them and the appointments didn’t stop. I went to a “public” Hospital because they were the only ones that would give me treatment with no insurance, or so I thought. At 23 years old and in medical debt, I had to drop out of college to work in order to pay the medical bills, and even with all that sacrifice my head was still not above water. No one ever informed me that hospitals offer low-cost to no cost payment plans for low-income people, and that they can adjust your outstanding debt according to your income. I became aware of these programs after I started to work for a medical billing company. I requested itemized bills and I disputed many of the overcharges that I found. I also called, faxed and visited the billing offices of the hospital in person to dispute and adjust the bills. After many years of fighting with the hospital I managed to lower the bills to a payable amount which I broke into a low amount payment plan according to my income.  Three years later I cleared my medical debt, but my trust in the medical field was hindered. Now I try my best to inform all the patients I come across that they have options, and I make sure that they know they don’t have to live with medical debt.

Krissy Williams, Pratt Institute

I am a junior at Pratt Institute with a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Psychology. After college, I hope to pursue a job in creative writing.   

My family and I qualify for Medicaid although we’ve had to switch to metro-plus because Medicaid wasn’t as accessible for our needs. Due to the limitations under Medicaid, I really struggled with being able to access certain doctors and therapy because a lot of therapists didn’t take my insurance. It took me months to find the care I needed. In one instance this caused me to go into debt, because I went into a therapy office thinking that they covered me. However, days after the session they informed me that it was not fully covered by my insurance and gave me a bill that I couldn’t pay off for months. I’ve also noticed the more advanced therapy treatments I need like EMDR are inaccessible to me because it is only for people who have the funds to pay out of pocket. My family and I also struggled with getting our prescriptions filled under Medicaid as many pharmacies, for example Walgreens didn’t accept our insurance.

I think we shouldn’t have to be upper class or rich to have good care. Lower-income individuals are always at the short end of the stick when it comes to these things. Therapists don’t take insurance because the health care system doesn’t pay them enough. In return this causes therapists to overcharge and only cater to upper-class people which leaves us with nothing. This is not fair to those who have chronic illnesses who cant afford to pay for treatment. It’s ridiculous we have to pay to get the help we need to live.

Madeline Loo, Hunter College

I am a sophomore at Hunter College studying media. I’m planning on working in the design field in the future like with UX/UI design. My aunt hurt her back during covid. It was right after she canceled her healthcare insurance, because she couldn’t afford to keep paying for it. She couldn’t afford to pay out of pocket to go to the doctor, so she just stayed at home and did home remedies to help her back. I have insurance covered though my parents’ family plan. I am concerned about losing insurance when I age out of my family’s plan.

During covid, my mom was switching jobs and lost the insurance for the family. We had to be extra cautious not to get sick or hurt, because then we would have to pay out of pocket even for a yearly check up. By having a more equitable health care system and universal health care, everyone can have access to the most basic human care, like a yearly check up or even going to see a dentist. By having those available, people can be more protected and more healthy.

Jodi Lewis, Hunter College

My name is Jodi Lewis and I am a junior at Hunter College student with a major in English Literature, minoring in Human Rights. After graduation I plan on attending graduate school in order to attain my dual degree Masters in Public Administration and Health Administration. There was never a time that I can remember that a family member was denied healthcare, however I am currently without health care because I am not a citizen of the United States nor am I a green card holder. As a result I am currently on Obama Care where I receive healthcare and medication at a reduced cost, which I have to renew each year because of my status. I am concerned that there may be a time that this benefit will no longer exist and I will have to pay for health care which is expensive. As a student who pays out of pocket and out of state tuition, which includes paying for my own books and transportation, I think it is important for healthcare to be easily accessible to those who experience financial hardship especially students like me. Health is a priority and a human right to everyone regardless of their status. The cost of living in New York is very high, and the last thing that I want to think about is not being able to see a doctor because I don’t have insurance. Having to factor in paying for rent, food along with school expenses, sometimes I feel stressed.

Azania “Sammie” Maitland, Hunter College

Azania “Sammie” Maitland is a rising Junior who majors in Political Science and minors in Legal Studies at Hunter College. She hopes to work for the State for 1-2 years prior to entering grad school to study Public Policy. Knowing the challenges that uninsured or underinsured New Yorker’s are facing, she feels privileged that she has a family that is more or less able to get by. As a full time college student she is insured via Medicaid and has struggled with the gap in adequate dental coverage. She’s a self-professed dental-phobe due to some bad experiences in the past, because finding a quality dentist with her insurance is a challenge. Unfortunately, the costs for dental work out of pocket can be astronomical. It worries her, if she gets a cavity, an infection, or needs something like a root canal – that she wouldn’t be able to get appropriate care to fix the issue.

Alexandra Bisagni, SUNY Cortland

I’m from Long Island, New York. I was always set on going to Cortland ever since I was a kid so I was very happy when I found out that I had been accepted. I wanted to go to SUNY Cortland for as long as I could remember because growing up my mom’s good friend that went to SUNY Oneonta told me that Cortland was a good state school to go to for exercise science. I’ve always wanted to major and get my degree in exercise science and this seemed like the best place for me to do it.

Besides school, I often worry about my health insurance and coverage. Growing up I always remember my mother struggling with healthcare for her and I. I am still currently under my mom’s health insurance however, it doesn’t do much for us because it honestly isn’t that great and it adds more stress into our daily lives. There are often times that I don’t even have health insurance since my parents are in and out of jobs and had to wait to be able to get coverage until they were employed. It made our lives very difficult, and still does. I’m 22 years old so I am becoming very concerned when I turn 26 and need to get off my mom’s health insurance. Although I do not personally handle my own medical bills right now, I often feel the stress of my mom and try to help her out as much as I can since I know she struggles.

I believe that health care should be free as it is in most European countries. I think it is extremely unfair that some people get worse health insurance than others just because they don’t have a job that’s as good, or a job at all. In fact, health insurance should be better for those that are unemployed living at a disadvantage due to the fact that it is proven that people living at a disadvantage encounter more health issues. I think that health insurance needs to be reconsidered.

Frank Denteh, SUNY Cortland

I am a SUNY Cortland student in the second year of my undergraduate degree in Bachelor of Science for Biomedical studies. I was born in Ghana and moved to the Bronx at a very young age. I chose to attend SUNY Cortland for many reasons, but finances were not a focus of mine. Cortland was appealing to me because it was far from home while also being close enough to be comfortable. When I came to my first open house before I confirmed my attendance at Cortland, I learned that the campus size and class and club opportunities were ideal for me, and I was set on where I wanted to go.

My mother is a nurse, and my insurance is through her job. The biggest stressors that have occurred for my family and I is medical debt and payments on medical debt. A big problem that my family has faced is feeling rushed to pay and having the idea that consequences will come from not paying them on time. I have a firm belief that equal health care is important to a successful society. Healthcare is one thing that our government can control and is a basic human need and right. I think that if the government wants to provide for the people and provide advocacy for the people, their first focus should be on making a form of state-wide healthcare. People struggle with so many things in everyday life and healthcare shouldn’t be one. People should be able to rely on their healthcare to be available and simple to use. Equality is a very important idea for me because I think that if New York state will be providing insurance it should have equal and basic plans for all. People get taxed for things such as fixing roads or community construction but not for healthcare and that’s not right.

Valerie Guerrero, SUNY Cortland 

I am a SUNY Cortland student in my fourth year. I am a dual major in Spanish and Sociology with a concentration in Criminology. I was born in the Dominican Republic where I lived until I was 12 when my mother decided it would be better for us in the United States. I currently live in the Bronx when I am not away at school. I have been at SUNY Cortland for my entire college career. I chose to go here because my high school volleyball coach attended SUNY Cortland and they promoted this college all throughout high school. Along with that, I wanted to go away to school, and Cortland provided the best EOP program for myself and my family.

In my family, insurance is through my mother through the government. There have been many times when a member of my family needed a prescription, but insurance wouldn’t cover it, so we simply just went without it. When I was in high school, there was a point when I didn’t have insurance, and we weren’t able to get our annual physicals; the school almost kicked us out. At this time, I didn’t have insurance because my mother was switching to a different insurance company due to my sister going upstate for school at it being too far for the insurance to cover. 

Recently, I went through a tough situation with medication from my insurance company. An uncommonly known fact of birth control prescriptions within the United States is that to refill a prescription of birth control pills a patient needs to attend an annual appointment with their OBGYN. When it was time for me to attend my appointment, I was in the Dominican Republic, and instead, I made an appointment with a doctor there. I was not aware that the United States doctor would not accept this visit and still wouldn’t prescribe my pills. If I were to go off these pills, since they’re hormonal, it would affect my body in multiple ways even if it were only for a few days. So, prior to running out of pills, I decided to go to the closest planned parenthood to me. Because of the type of insurance that I had, I was worried that I would have to pay completely out of pocket. Before insurance, the visit, tests, and my prescription would cost over $100 on top of the $105 I had already spent on transportation to and from the facility but luckily it was covered. If my doctor and insurance could have made an exception one time, I would have been able to avoid all of this. 

I feel that we need to make a universal, single-payer form of health care for so many reasons. With a universal form of healthcare, my mom wouldn’t have had to change my insurance because my sister went away to school, my family could have always gotten the prescriptions they needed at a decent cost, and I would have never had to go to planned parenthood which some insurance companies do not cover. If I am working and paying taxes in this country, I believe insurance shouldn’t be something I need to be concerned with.

Gabriella Lubrano, SUNY Cortland

I live in Staten Island, New York. I wasn’t always set on going to Cortland to be honest. I grew up going to private Catholic schools, so I always expected to go to a smaller school for college as well. But as it turns out, I ended up at Cortland and I couldn’t be more grateful! I am graduating from SUNY Cortland this semester, however I do intend to go to grad school hopefully in the fall. 

Although I am constantly stressed out about school, I also often stress about my insurance and health care coverage. Growing up I always remember my parents struggling with healthcare for my sister and I. I am still currently under my dad’s health insurance, however it doesn’t do much for me due to the fact that it isn’t too great and it adds more stress into my parent’s daily lives. Even after using our insurance at doctor’s visits, my parents still have to pay a costly amount which makes our lives very difficult. I often try to help them while I can since my sister is not yet old enough to work, but it is often very hard since when I am away at school I don’t have a job. I’m 22 years old so I am becoming very concerned when I turn 26 and need to get off my father’s health insurance. Even though I don’t take care of my medical bills right now I see the stress my parents and family get from it. 

I believe that health care should be free for everyone. It is not fair in any way that the people who don’t have as good a job have worse health insurance than those that do. In fact, it should be the other way around because those that do have good jobs have a higher chance to afford medical bills than those that do not. People often do not realize the stress that healthcare and insurance constantly are put on to a family.