Health insurance is a subject that weighs on me and keeps me up at night. Every once in a while my insurance situation is sorted out and the worry briefly lifts, then something happens and the anxiety falls on me once again.
In my early 20s, I often went without health insurance. At the time, I knew it was a risk, but I was broke and did not know how to get health insurance when I was between jobs. Thankfully, nothing more serious than a sprained ankle occurred during these uninsured times.
My late 20s were mostly insured. I went a few months here and there between jobs without insurance, but spent most of these years with health insurance. Keeping myself insured did not become a huge problem until my early 30s. At that point some major things happened…
I was old enough to understand the incredible cost of not having health insurance.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began glimpsing the high cost of medical care. The simplest ailment, such as seeing your primary care doctor about a sore throat, is more than $100 per appointment. Having warts removed is considered outpatient surgery and will run you close to $1000. An hour with a therapist is $160. Getting shots and stitches when you cut your foot is around $1200. Simple, everyday ailments and accidents cost incredible amounts of money. A recent trip to the emergency room due to unexplained chest pains totaled $4198. None of these costs are chump change. They add up to huge figures and for some people, are absolutely insurmountable.
The laws in my state changed. It was now illegal not to carry health insurance.
The changing of Massachusetts health insurance laws happened in 2006. This change was meant to be a good thing. Yes, everyone should have health insurance. Yes, lower income people should be able to have subsidized insurance. Those are two topics I agree with. However, making people pay a tax penalty if they are uninsured is not something I stand behind. To me, it seems like another way of penalizing the poor for being poor. Even with the subsidy, the cost of health insurance is simply inaccessible for many.
This law influenced me because I could no longer go for a few months here and there without health insurance. Even if I wanted to, regardless of whether it was a bad idea, I had to carry insurance.
I got laid off. Twice.
When I was first laid off in 2007, the company ousting me paid for my health insurance for an extra month. I tried to finagle an additional six months, but that did not fly.
I had the option to continue my health insurance through COBRA, a government program that gives workers who lose their jobs the option of continuing their health insurance at full cost (without the employer paying part). The premium was $457 per month. That is a whole lot of money for someone who has just lost her job. Continuing with COBRA was not a viable option.
For people in my situation, Massachusetts offers something called the Medical Security Plan. If you meet certain financial guidelines, the state will reimburse you for up to 80 percent of your COBRA or individual premiums. I was excited about this option and applied for the program. I was a few thousand dollars above their financial limits and was quickly turned down.
A program called the Commonwealth Connector was recommended to me. This is the state’s way of offering “affordable” insurance to individuals. “Affordable” is a relative term. I ended up with a terrible health insurance plan for $256 a month. It was the type of plan that would partially cover my hospital stay if I was hit by a bus, but would not pay for anything else. It felt like I did not have health insurance at all because I could not really use it.