Eighteen Years Without Healthcare

When I decided to go back to college and finish my degree, I lost my healthcare. I chose to be without healthcare, the kind of healthcare I had at the time working for a small independent company, after a mid-life crisis, when I realized I had been existing in perpetual clerical servitude for over twenty years. I no longer wanted to sit silently by while men rose to positions of power while their hardworking female coworkers remained behind. I also no longer wanted to sit idly by while staff were teased because of the color of their skin or their religion.

Image by K McVere LLC

The first day of college was a dream come true. Then during finals, I got sick and had to go to the Boise State University Health Services clinic. When I learned as a student I still had to pay for my prescriptions and services which they did not cover, I was stunned. After having good health insurance when I worked for the university and while working at the small business, I thought student healthcare would be similar. I was wrong, very wrong. What I paid for did not cover eye exams or dental or hospital visits if I ended up in the emergency room. Nevertheless, I chose to stay in school and get my degree and hope for the best.

Luckily, during those years at Boise State University (BSU), I managed to avoid any major health problems or end up in the emergency room. Sure, I had to deal with colds and flues and aches and pains, especially during the stressful final exams. Those minor illnesses were easily remedied by a five-dollar co-pay for an inexpensive prescription. If I had developed a serious illness, I would have been in deep trouble.

When I think back to those days though, back to college and working on my old house, I realize in shock how many times I narrowly missed expensive health care costs:

  • The time I hammered my way through plasterboard to make a new entrance and discovered a monster living inside the wall, a monster nesting, for perhaps decades, between my living room and the kitchen. The monster in the wall resembled a big snake thick and dusty.
    photo of a snake
    Photo by Jan Kopřiva on Pexels.com
    • My monster turned out to be a fat rubberized sheath hiding a 220-volt hot wire intertwined with some neutral wires. My friend cautioned me not to touch the damned thing since the cable lacked any kind of protective grounding.
    • I’d had no idea the 220-volt was living inside the wall! When I first bought my house, I’d even nailed up a few pictures ON THAT VERY WALL. I could have electrocuted myself – but my luck held.
  • The time I got up on the carport roof to paint the parts of my house I couldn’t reach using a ladder and was too scared to climb down. I had to wait for my son to get out of the shower so that he could hold my rickety little wooden ladder. I could have attempted to climb down, but I feared a fall, perhaps a broken leg. When he heard my cries for help, he came out in his bathrobe and held the ladder for me – and my luck held.
  • The time I followed my son under the house through the crawl space (dirt floor) even though I hate spiders and mice and had nightmares for days afterward and could have been seriously hurt – but my luck held.
  • The time I spread buckets of gravel on my front lawn (xeriscaping) in the hot summer sun because I couldn’t afford a crew to lay the gravel for me. What with the gravel and the paving stones and working long hours in the sun I could have collapsed from sunstroke or broke something – but my luck held.
  • The night I walked into a wall because I was half asleep and refused to keep a night light on in the hallway. Wow. That hurt. I managed to stumble into the living room and collapse on a chair nursing my poor head. I could have broken my eyeglasses or my nose. Instead, I ended up with a black and blue bruise above my right eye and a half-moon indentation in the plasterboard – but my luck held.

    Image by K McVere LLC
  • The times that my schipperke / husky mix Shad left dead squirrels in front of my bedroom door, his doggy offerings to his favorite lady. Those offerings might have resulted in the spread of bubonic plague, or at the very least, an infestation of flees throughout the house – but my luck held.

Over the years, I got used to coping without health insurance, hoping and praying I would never get seriously sick or injured. When I graduated in 2004, I discovered employers were less than eager to hire someone with my level of education. Like a friend warned me, “You’re educating yourself right out of a job, Kelley.” I realized she was so right, because nobody wanted to hire someone with a MA in English.

Desperate to pay off my rising bills, I got a loan from Countrywide Mortgage to pay off my credit cards and keep my mortgage loan in good standing. Even though I didn’t have a job, Countrywide gave me the loan based on my education. What a joke! My education had been the reason no one wanted to hire me! I learned later that Countrywide Mortgage didn’t give a damn about fiscal responsibility, they just wanted to make loads and loads of dirty money.

So, in the mistaken belief a teaching certificate would land me a good paying job, I went back to college. After two years at BSU, I graduated with a MA in Secondary Education. My timing sucked, sucked immensely. I’d graduated just in time to experience the collapse of the financial market due to the greed and mismanagement of Wall Street and predatory lenders.

How could I have known that the Great Recession was just around the corner?

Plenty of insiders must have known something was up, because nobody was hiring and the temp jobs were drying up, real fast. In 2007, I found a few temporary jobs which lasted a few weeks to a month. In order to survive, I had to close out my PERSI to pay my mortgage payments. I even had to ask my boyfriend’s parents for a loan which I managed to pay back within two years. The money from my cashed-out PERSI barely lasted a few months.

I was on the brink of losing everything. Then I got lucky and found a part-time position with the city. I’ve been working part-time for twelve years now. The Great Recession did something to me (probably to a lot of people) the traumatic experience made me mistrustful and timid. After working with the public and seeing the number of homeless come and go, I’m even more terrified for us all.

During the Great Recession, I became a pest and kept calling Bank of America (who were forced to buyout Countrywide Mortgage) until the bank finally gave in and provided me with a Home Modification Loan. The Home Modification Loan Program provided a temporary solution to a systemic culture of greed and grift. The HMLP decreased my monthly payments for five years, then each successive year, I would pay more interest on the loan which would increase my mortgage payments. Unfortunately for me, my student loan debt kept me from refinancing my home to get out of the program.

See how the wheel turns? I wasn’t born into a rich or even middle-class family where education was encouraged. My family thought college was a big joke. They certainly didn’t have the money to pay for my education. My only recourse was student debt. Tired of the same hamster wheel of clerical servitude which led nowhere, as a cockeyed optimist, I reentered the world of learning racking up student loans along the way, which during the Great Recession, prevented me from refinancing my home.

I don’t regret my education; I just regret the timing. Since I don’t have a crystal ball nor the gift of clairvoyance, I have to stop blaming myself for making those decisions. One decision I made was the best possible decision; I want to thank that younger Kelley for being astute enough to apply for Income Contingency student loans. I wasn’t totally insane back then after all; I figured if I didn’t get the job of my dreams at least my student loan payments would be based on my income. How prescient of me. What I hadn’t planned on was the Great Recession plunging us and the world into financial insecurity.

All through my college years at Boise State University, I had subpar health insurance. Then I graduated shortly before the Great Recession and can’t find full-time work. I take a part-time job out of desperation. Over the years I cling to this job convinced I’d made a huge mistake leaving the old clerical job. Going forward, during the Great Recession, I promise myself I’ll never do something as foolish and risky ever again. I did apply for other jobs, but they were also part-time and didn’t include sick pay or holiday pay. So, there I stayed, now ten years without health insurance. For six more years I go without health insurance.

photo of fireworks
Photo by Anna-Louise on Pexels.com

Then a miracle happened. During the last few years of Obama’s first term, after he has rescued us from a financial meltdown, he persuades Congress to get behind the Affordable Care Act. I had to wait another two years to apply for health care through the new program. But finally, finally I had healthcare. It was awesome.

Among many programs, the best possible outcome of the Obama presidency was the Affordable Care Act. The year 2014 was the first time I had healthcare, real healthcare since 1996. Ironic that only a few months before Obamacare, something terrible happened, something no one expects and everyone fears; one moment I’m healthy and happy and walking to my car, the next, in a freak accident (during my Golden Birthday year no less) I fall and wake in the emergency room of St. Luke’s Hospital learning soon after that I’d dislocated my elbow.

While I was at home healing from my injury, my employer continued to pay my salary. As a part-time employee I was uninsured and paid a weekly pittance, but the money provided the relief I needed to hold onto my home. If I had had any other job in the same field, I would not have received sick pay, not in Idaho anyway. After applying for work at other places in the Treasure Valley, I discovered only this job with the City of Boise paid for holidays and sick leave to part-time employees. I’m so glad I chose to remain here.

There was still the looming expense of my emergency visit to St. Luke’s Hospital and my visit to the orthopedic surgeon. I chose to go to the surgeon’s office just two times and do my own exercises to strengthen my arm. After filling out the forms necessary to prove I couldn’t afford to pay the medical expenses, St. Luke’s Hospital forgave all the debt – $4000.00 worth of debt! Maybe, St. Luke knew something I didn’t know – the possibility that the Affordable Care Act would be passed in Congress. Whatever their reason for forgiving the debt, they’ve got a big fan in me.

Image by K McVere LLC

Once I decided to receive my Social Security early, I learned a painful lesson about the Affordable Care Act. The extra income I earned from my small social security benefits plus my part-time job put me in a different income bracket. Now, I’m paying more money out of my own pocket (mainly my social security benefits earned over forty years) to pay for my health costs and prescriptions than when my income included only the part-time job.

When my gastroenterologist required a final check after doing an endoscopy and the billing office of my insurance company told me how much I would have to pay for the follow up procedure, I cancelled the follow up. I’d been paying the premium for nearly half a year through the Affordable Care Act and the government had been paying a thousand or more dollars a month and I stilled owed the gastroenterologist money for the first procedure.

I paid the first procedure with my credit card which I suspect many Americans do nowadays. And this situation will continue unless something is done about our health care infrastructure in America. My situation is not new, there are thousands of Americans dealing with the same Catch-22 foolishness. I’m one of the lucky ones, unlike my friend who is three years younger than me, I will be eligible for Medicare next year.

If I live that long. We now have a virus in America which is killing the elderly who have weak immune systems. Even though the idiot in the White House would rather calm the nerves of the morbidly rich than do something about this health crisis, this health crisis will be coming for them too.

I think of the coronavirus as the Great Equalizer. The coronavirus doesn’t care how much money you have or how many homes you have or how popular you are on social media. The coronavirus doesn’t care how smart you are or connected you are or even if you’re as dumb as a rock. It’s an equal opportunity weapon, invisible to the naked eye and capable of traveling thousands of miles with the help of pack mules like us. The coronavirus is just the first of many viruses. There will be more. And if this crisis isn’t a wake-up call for America to do something about our health care infrastructure immediately, then Mother Nature will take care of the problem for us.

Even with Obamacare, there is no guarantee we as Americans will receive the health care we need. The threat to Social Security and Medicare made by the current administration, along with the threat to Obamacare from the Supreme Court (aka Robert’s Mediocre Court), people like me may end up living in chicken coops or on the streets. Or more likely, people like me, the poor and elderly will be dead.

Anyone who thinks that holding onto their private healthcare is better than choosing Medicare-For-All must be a gambler or under the delusion they are superheroes who will never fall ill, experience a freak accident and dislocate their elbow, or much more immediate, have a virus proof body capable of fighting off future pandemics. Maybe some of you are thinking, what a depressing piece of shit, she’s just trying to bum me out with a doomsday message, so, I’ll just ignore her rantings and go on with my life. You may be right. In fact, I’m hoping you are right that we have nothing to worry about from this virus.

Image by K McVere LLC

But just in case – please, please, stay safe my friends. I wish you all – long and fulfilling lives. Be sure to take good care of yourselves and your loved ones and ignore the idiot in the White House. Instead, listen to your local health care professionals; they know far more than the dumb asses running our country right now.

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