I attended college out of state (primary residence was California, but went to college in New York), thanks largely to the scholarships I received from a private college. While in college, I was on my mother’s health insurance plan she had through her job. Despite her working for a municipal government and in a unionized role, we still could not afford more than the lowest cost plan. And while I was in high school, it was great for local care especially because I do not have major health concerns.
But when I went to New York for college, I quickly learned that the health insurance plan I thought worked for me, only worked because of where I was located. While in college, I did not have access to a primary care doctor or preventative healthcare. During the fall semester of my junior year, I woke up one morning and my shoulder was stiff and sore: it even hurt to put on my jacket or backpack. Several days went by and one night I suddenly got very dizzy and my whole arm went numb. With both sides of my family having heart conditions, I knew this wasn’t the time to worry about coverage: I needed to go to the emergency room. We called our campus’ Public Safety and they drove us to the emergency room that was only a few blocks away from campus.
When I checked in, they of course asked for insurance. So I handed them my one and only insurance card. In California this was all I had ever needed. But the staff working asked where my second card was, she was only familiar with New York health insurances.
Shortly after I was seen, I explained to the ER nurse what I had been experiencing the last few days and the reason I came in today–family history. I was hooked up to a heart monitor, a nurse pricked my finger to check my blood sugar levels and I was taken in for an x-ray. Thankfully I was not seriously ill: only a pinched nerve. I was asked if I wanted a prescription for a higher dosage of ibuprofen than what I could get over the counter. I declined, I was back to worrying about the cost. I went home and did my best to rest, well the best that a full time college student could rest.
Two weeks later my mother called me. She asked why I hadn’t given the hospital my insurance– She had just received a bill for the full cost of my hospital visit. After calling our insurance company, they informed us it was not “medically necessary” for me to go to the emergency room. Of course they didn’t take into account that at midnight the only health care open was the emergency rooms, and I would not have known it wasn’t medically necessary unless I went to the emergency room. After months of fighting both our insurance provider and the local hospital, we managed to get our bill down to the $500 maximum for emergency visits.
My first job after college was environmental justice based community organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area. My first question was not how much I would make, room for growth, or company policy–It was healthcare coverage. The cheapest plan available to me was $300 a month. I was expected to spend ¼ of my monthly income on health insurance “just in case”. With rent, high cost of living, and my six month grace period on my student loans coming up, I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford health insurance through my employer. And the Department of Education would not take “sorry I need health insurance” as a valid reason to not pay back my loans. I have never in my life felt so fortunate to be a healthy adult with no chronic health conditions.
I have personally seen how flawed both the healthcare provided is and the health insurance industry. We need a healthcare system that is easy to understand and works for all people. When individuals are seeking healthcare whether that be preventative, treatment for long or short term conditions, or emergency care they should be able to focus on their health and wellbeing not just what they are able to afford before going broke.