As embarrassing as this post may be, believe me when I say I’m more embarrassed to talk about it than you are to read it. But I am a firm believer we need to have this discussion.
This has been a roller coaster year in health for me. Before I sound overly dramatic, I understand that many more people suffer more pain than I have but I think there is something to be said though about the dull, constant pain that we just learn how to live with and suffer through for whatever reason. My number 1 reason for suffering has been the cost of being sick.
I have been uninsured since May. The timing of my travel, coupled with my freelance career, hasn’t quite worked out the way I would have hoped in terms of ability to get proper care in any one city. During the month of May my travel insurance expired. I hoped to land a contract big enough to afford paying record-high healthcare premiums but that never happened. Timing just wasn’t on my side.
I won’t go into the details of my ailment but I will say it’s “lady issues”. To give you a sense of my variety of experiences, here’s what the last 10 months looked like: My first visit for the issue was at a local doctor in May, then a homeopathic doctor in August at a “friend discount”, then a Christian-based health clinic (note, not free) in October, then a random ZocDoc in November, and finally the NYC Health Department. The saddest part about all of this (besides the fact that I’m not better yet) is how I refer to this process in the context of cost. You see, when you don’t have a regular physician, benefits, or even a job, it’s hard to get help. You are cast out in the deep, dark seas of medicine to sink or swim. Not that having health insurance makes it any easier to get help, it just costs less. Apparently.
For the longest time, I went through an independent broker to source my health insurance, changing it annually to get the best rate. I didn’t want to be dependent on my employer (especially during college when I changed jobs all the time) to find me the best deal. I rarely went to the doctor or only needed an annual visit so I didn’t see the point in paying a big monthly bill for a low deductible. It made sense then but I’ve since changed careers. I realize how helpful it would be to be part of a collective group of freelancers, signing up for insurance as a group. I recently received an email that Freelancers Union is offering help with coverage. Alas, I’m leaving the country a day before open enrollment starts. And I’m headed to a country with affordable health insurance.
Please note, I’m not fleeing the country because of this issue. I would never do that. But I am aware that other countries have easier systems to navigate, smaller populations to manage and can help me with the same issue with less stress. I actually hope to never have to use the system overseas. I also hope my current travel insurance policy will cover me in the event I need to seek help.
I’d often get confused looks from doctors and nurses when I’d arrive to my appointment without health insurance information. They’d say, “Wait. You didn’t sign up for Obamacare?”. Actually, no. I arrived in the US 2 days after the deadline last March and what the hell is it anyway? I’d also get the occasional expression of pity from adminstrators when they handed me my bill ($250+ sometimes) before ever even seeing the doctor.
Although I’m not 100%, I am improving everyday. It’s taken a lot of work to get here. I’ve considered forging antibiotic prescriptions. I’ve been on hold on phones for almost 5 hours while scheduling and rescheduling appointments or asking questions. I’ve overdrafted at front desks in front of a huge waiting room of patients. I’ve spent countless hours on the physician’s table in tears to “figure this out”. I’ve gotten a full spectrum of diagnosis to my “issue” including “It’s God’s gift and curse to you” and “Dr. Oz says…”. I even dragged my boyfriend in with me at one point, bless his heart. That speaks to the openness of our relationship but mostly I wanted him to bare witness to my experience at an American doctor’s office.
The point of all this is it’s sheer ridiculousness. I know I’m not alone in this struggle. The struggle is real and many more are dealing with it too. I wish I had a better solution. So tell me, are you on Obamacare? Do you carry private insurance? Are you covered by benefits from your workplace? What’s that all like?