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Why I take health care reform personally — and you should too

Why I take health care reform personally — and you should too

Health care reform is more than a political issue for me. It’s personal. 

I write about health care reform and it is a frequent topic of conversation in my life. To those who stand against reform, nothing I say will sway them. They see even minor reform through the lens of socialism, or argue that the constitution does not grant us a right to health care, or speak of the tremendous cost. 

This would be a great place to insert the usual point/counter-point arguments, but that’s not where I want to lead the discussion today. This isn’t about politics; it’s personal.

I’m a 50-year old female with a chronic illness who is not eligible for group health insurance. In my state all insurers, with one exception, are free to refuse coverage to an individual. That one insurer can choose the policy and charge what they wish because there is no legal cap on premiums, nor is there a high risk pool. I live in a state that guarantees coverage — up until the moment its citizens are priced out of the market. Premiums, high deductibles, and out-of-pocket fees are rising annually at an astronomical rate, and I’m a long way from Medicare. One day I’ll get the increase notice that tips the scale.

There is no shortage of people willing to give me advice and/or excuses, though.

Opponents of reform tell me health care is not my right. Those people are generally healthy or have decent coverage or a sense of entitlement for themselves. 

They tell me that it’s not fair that people who are young and healthy don’t buy insurance until they are sick. A very good point, but that’s not me. The insurance industry happily accepted my premium payments for three decades while I was in good health. Those premiums helped to cover costs for the uninsured who used the system but couldn’t afford to pay. Despite my stellar record of continuing coverage throughout adulthood, insurers are not particularly fond of me now.

I hear the problem is illegal immigrants. Maybe or maybe not, but I’m a citizen and that argument doesn’t do me much good. I’ve always been a contributing member of society. My tax dollars fund Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and ensure health insurance coverage for my representatives in Congress. My tax dollars also contribute to welfare and food stamps and any number of social programs designed to help others. Gratefully, I’ve never had the need for any of those programs myself. I don’t begrudge those who have.

So apply for disability they say. But I’m not unable to work. I have a chronic illness that presents a major challenge to working straight eight-hour days, so I have two part-time jobs and a flexible work schedule. It is a good solution and I am baffled as to why so many people advise me to stop working in exchange for a disability payment. If and when I ever face that need, I won’t hesitate, but please don’t rush me. Besides, Social Security Disability is not the same as health insurance. There is a two-year wait from onset of disability benefits until eligibility for Medicaid kicks in.

Some people argue about my costs and say I must be exaggerating or that I don’t know how to shop around. Are you kidding me? My only theory for this is that by blaming people like me, they can rest easier about their own fate, secure in the knowledge that it can’t happen to them.

It’s the American lifestyle that must be changed. Poor diet, obesity, smoking, and drug and alcohol abuse add to our health care costs. No argument here but, again, none of these is to blame for my predicament.

It’s un-American they say. I’m not sure I completely understand that argument. Sounds like they want me to take one for the team, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow — that my country says it’s okay for me to be weeded out now that I have an illness; that the for-profit insurance industry holds all the cards; that I don’t deserve options. My story is not a particularly dramatic one; there are people in far more dire circumstances than I who are cast aside. (See related reading at the bottom of this post.) And, no, I don’t mind contributing my tax dollars to help those who cannot work or otherwise would have no access to health care. If that’s un-American then pronounce me guilty.

But reform, especially with a public option, will drive insurers out of business! Oh, you mean the very insurers who would prefer that I, and millions of people like me, go quietly into the night? Sorry, but I have a hard time working up even a slice of sympathy.

No one is without health care — the emergency room can’t turn you away. But neither will the emergency room give me preventative care or the ongoing care that I need.

People will take advantage and cheat the system, adding to the cost. Of course they will. There are thieves among us and there always will be. We do our best to make it harder for them, but we can’t allow the bad guys to stop us from doing the right thing.

I wrote my representative in Congress, asking him to support his constituents who desperately need reform. His response ignored my concerns entirely, instead imploring me to have some consideration for the high-income earners who may see a tax hike. Brrr…. now that’s cold.

Am I looking for a free ride? Absolutely not. I simply what most people want — a fair shake and the knowledge that I am not a less-than-worthy American by virtue of my health status and how I happen to earn my living. I want a system that makes some kind of sense. I want Congress to put their own selfish interests aside for a change and work on that, however naïve that may sound.

There is nothing out of the ordinary about my situation. Just an average American with an average story.

Why anyone, aside from members of Congress, feels secure about their health care at this point is beyond me. No one is safe. Lose your job, use up COBRA, get sick… and even if you’ve played by all the rules, you’ll be taking one for the team, too. 

Out of luck, out of access to health care. When that day comes, if you stood against reform, it should be a great honor to stand by your principles and take it quietly. Me? I take it personally.

Stories about who and what reform is all about:

Closed Minds Shout Down Disabled Woman in Wheelchair

Young Man Dies for Lack of Public Option

6 Shockers about Women’s Health Care

Toddler Too Small for Health Insurance

Greedy Insurers Dumping the “Dogs”

Man Joins Army to Save Wife’s Life

Rape Victim Deemed Uninsurable for Seeking Treatment for Rape

Get my updates on Twitter @AnnPietrangelo

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8:43PM PDT on Aug 21, 2010

Stop tracking please

9:24AM PDT on Aug 20, 2010

I have lived in the US for 20+ yrs - am originally from Canada. I have heard sooo much propaganda concerning the system up there - just makes me ANGRY!!! As if there is no waiting time here in the States - LOL!!!
1st of all, I wish the Federal Gov't would get rid of lobbyists altogether - I believe that 1/2 the problem is that the insurance companies are soooo big & powerful that nothing here will ever change, especially when they keep on "buying off the politicians!!!"
I have had surgeries done in both countries - in Canada, there are CHOICES: when admitted, you get put into a semi-private room (unless you want to pay extra for a private) with the option of renting a TV. In the US, you do NOT have a choice: you get put into a private room with a big TV set which, even if you are in a coma & can't watch, you are still paying for it! Now, does THAT make any sense??? All of this means MORE $$$ FOR THE HOSPITALS & INSURANCE COMPANIES !!! They are NOT thinking of the patient at all, nor how they are going to be able to afford it!!! That is just ONE example!!!
Then, there is CONFLICT OF INTEREST: I know of several Senators whose spouses are LOBBYISTS! Now, does THAT make any sense to you ???
The medical system in Canada is by no means "perfect," BUT the system in the US is money-making, which I boil down to GREED - pure & simple!
Yes, this IS MY OPINION, but I truly have seen both systems in action! Thanks for 'listening!'

5:06PM PST on Jan 18, 2010

Amen, sister!

6:33PM PST on Dec 13, 2009

my heart goes out to you and others in your predicament....I am in healthcare and we try our best to give what we can, but when I read stories like yours I know we can never do enough...I wish you well and hope you know tha there are people who care about you, albeit without knowing you, but care all the same...
We sincerely do not know how health reform will affect us personally, but are sure it is the right thing to to............with great admiration for your courage and sympathy for your stuggle....

6:23AM PST on Dec 10, 2009

Yes - I agree.

3:45AM PST on Dec 9, 2009

I received an email yesterday with an editorial describing a public option at the state level that I could support.

Would appreciate the thoughts of all, here's the link:

4:53AM PST on Dec 8, 2009

Let's just hope that the change is to something better. As broken as our current system is, it can become worse.

7:31PM PST on Dec 7, 2009

Totally agree with you.

9:45PM PST on Dec 6, 2009

As long as the big donations come from Healthcare and Pharmaceutical companies there will be no change. It wasn't that long ago that this was not our country's situation. I think back and wonder how my grandparents afforded to have seven kids; the doctor and hospital bills alone is mind-boggling, let alone if extra care is needed.

People think "It is socialism" until they (or a loved one) need(s) it. Then they complain how much they want this, that or the other. Vehicle insurance wasn't required a few years ago and now it is a nationwide requirement. Our federal government has told the states to 'watch your speed, lower your speed limits or lose money', 'lower the drinking age from 18 to 21, or lose money'. Those measures were designed to save lives, but once that life is saved, oh well! You're on your own!

Things will change when enough people realize how bad and broken our system is, but as long as the majority of people don't care, there will be no change. That is sad for those of us that need it.

6:02PM PST on Dec 6, 2009

I'm Canadian, and I believe that health care is a right but then again, I'm Canadian. But what about local police, state police, public education, libraries, and firefighters? Boy, I bet that one US citizens find out that THOSE professions are socialist -- but wait, they're a right, aren't they!!!

A year ago,I broke my hand. I went to the ER, was triaged and had to wait for 45 minutes so that other more seriously injured ppl could be treated, then I went to X ray for half an hour, came back from X ray, waited another half-hour to be seen, WAS seen, my hand was splinted (so could drive back to my home town and get a cast there), and left the hospital. All this took about 4 hours. It cost me nothing.

I loved your piece. But I fear it will never happen. I sincerely hope I am proved wrong.

Thanks Ann, for a wonderful report.

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