Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

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Donna Smith

Donna Smith, American SiCKO, is executive director of the Health Care for All Colorado Foundation

March 29th, 2013 1:11 PM

Good Friday Health Care Options: Go Bare or Go Broke?

In America, we take our pound of flesh and our profits wherever we may find them.  In our U.S. health care system, the opportunities to profit are plentiful no matter the pain, illness, worry or other suffering inflicted.  For me, I now face a decision I have faced at other points in my life, but this time I am older and allegedly wiser. 

This is a story played out all over America in homes where hard working people who have health concerns are faced with unimaginable choices.  Just a few short weeks ago, I had a really good job with decent health insurance benefits.  My husband is on Medicare (he’s older), and we also have purchased a really good supplemental (not an Advantage plan) for him.  He has heart problems, and having good insurance is literally a matter of life and death for him.  So, he is our priority and has been for the past 20-plus years in terms of health coverage.

It wasn’t until several years into my previous, really good, job that a colleague pushed me to sign my husband up for his supplemental coverage through my employer-based plan.  I had tried in the past, but somehow the paperwork never quite went through the HR department, and we had spent more than $300/month for four years on that coverage.  That was more than $10,000 out of our pockets that might have been avoided, but no one ever rushed to cover my hubby and his health issues. 

Then there is me.  Being able to purchase health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchange/marketplace will not change this scenario up much as premiums for people like me – over 55 and a two time cancer survivor – will be anything but affordable.  Sure, insurance companies will be forced to write a policy for me, but they’ll also be able to charge me a huge amount – likely more than the $803 my health benefits under COBRA will cost now.  And that cost is without dental or vision coverage.  To add those features would push my costs to nearly $1,000/month in premiums.  Add my husband?  Now we’re talking almost $2,000/month for both of us even though Medicare remains his primary coverage. 

So, you may ask, why would you opt to be in this situation knowing what our broken system does to heart patients and cancer survivors?  Why not just stay in that good job with solid health benefits – at least for one of us?  Well, that’s where life and love and being human enters the not so human or life-affirming medical-financial-industrial complex, as I call it, in America.

Last year as I looked cancer in the eye for the second time around, I was physically, mentally and emotionally spent. Working at the capacity required to keep my really good job became so difficult.  One of the days when I was in the oncology infusion center with a laptop balanced in one corner of the recliner and my Blackberry working on the other side, and a nurse encouraged me to at least straighten out my arm so the meds could drip properly, I was taken aback by my own situation as a glanced at others in the room.  I was alone with my work-related electronics and my fear.  We lived thousands of miles from family, and my husband doesn’t do well being the calm, supportive sort at the bedside.  There I was with my laptop (wireless available, of course) and my Blackberry and my terror.  Other patients had books, fuzzy blankets, slippers, and friends or family along.

My terror was not about the cancer issues or the drip of the meds.  My terror was that if I didn’t work hard enough, fast enough and without interruption, I would inevitably lose that good job to someone who would work harder and faster and never give in to such things as cancer or illness.  Signals over the months from my employer had been mixed.  Some folks were lovely, while other signals were ominous.  The fear and worry were adding to my physical issues. 

I made my decision that I would revamp my work life to make sure that when the next health crisis comes – and it will, as I am human and my husband is too – I will not be alone or terrified about my job.  I made the decision to trade one constant terror for what seemed and seems to me to be a lessor one.  But making that decision meant upheaval that we are yet unraveling.

My new job is wonderful in that I do not feel so terrified all the time about losing my job if I get sick or hurt to someone who is younger, healthier and stronger.  Now I head up a small, non-profit fighting to advance a health care system in Colorado that would end the kind of situations I face today – and millions of other Americans face regularly.    

Medicare for all for life is the only way to go to end the cycle of abuse.  I could not end the cycle by sitting smack dab in the middle of it.  I was too weak in that position.  And I will fight on to make sure my kids and my grandkids don’t spend some of their most productive years dancing the endless dance of profit and pain that our current health care system glorifies.  Will you join me?  Will you join Health Care for All Colorado today as a member or find another way to work to change this mess?  Your life – and mine – depends on it.

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