Thoughts on the debate from an uninsured voter...
So technically, I just found out that I was approved for insurance. I am still waiting for proof of that, and I am biting my nails, so to speak, about what the insurance company will deign to cover. I really am anxious about this.
This is why tonight’s debate was important to me. I liked one thing more than any other, and that was Obama’s ability to connect the current financial crisis to issues family face on a daily basis. I don’t think he or McCain answered questions well regarding how the current meltdown affects regular people. I have a lot of older co-workers, for example, who are worried about retirement. Almost everyone I work with (except me) has money invested somewhere. However, I do think Obama made the point several times that families are a microcosm, in a way, of the federal government. When money is tight, you adjust your spending. You prioritize your needs, and above all, you take care of the fundamentals first (job, health, family, education).
What does this have to do with being uninsured? When money is tight, you cut the highest expenses first, and few things are more expensive for individuals in this country than health care. My story is that I changed careers and, to do that, I quit my full-time job to be a full-time student. As a result, during that time, I was uninsured. (I also took on a TON of debt, but that is another post). I used to take advantage of preventive care services. The problem confronting the uninsured is that you can’t do that! I have gone two years without the basic preventive care necessary to prevent long-term medical care and expenses. I now have a great job that I love but there are no benefits attached. I am happy with that decision.
Recently, however, I developed a problem breathing, and not having a history of asthma or allergies, I decided to get checked out. Walk-in clinics are not cheap, but when you can’t breathe, you don’t have much of an option. Here’s the adventure. I initially got checked out prior to deciding to apply for health coverage. The fact is I can’t afford it. I lived off of student loans, credit cards, and what no longer exists in my 401k in order to make a life change I will never regret. Now I have the responsibility of paying people back, which I don’t mind. But it’s not easy, and keeping my expenses low is a priority. The policy I was recently approved for is expensive (although among the cheapest of available options), and I question whether it wouldn’t be better to use that money at a walk-in clinic as needed.
What does my breathing problem have to do with this debate? It illustrates the problem confronting people like me that I think McCain did not adequately address. I was seen for difficulty breathing prior to being approved for coverage; does that make it a pre-existing condition? I don’t know. But I do know I have a problem, so I went to the doctor anyway. Without insurance, I would have paid $75 for a walk-in visit, $97 for the Nasonex nasal spray I was prescribed (yes, $97), and $140 for the antibiotic to treat an upper respiratory infection. Instead, I saved $191. That’s great. Except that I had to charge it, because I have no disposable income for other than food and gas after I pay my bills and, now, my health insurance plan.
The kicker is I had a bad sinus infection two months ago that precipitated the difficulty breathing (I don’t know if the two are connected). I didn’t have the money to see a doctor at the time, so I took OTC medications and the problem seemed to resolve. Now, I have more complications and no money to deal with them. Yes, I saved money on this recent visit. But why is getting basic health care so expensive to begin with? If it wouldn’t have cost me $100+ to have the sinus infection checked out, I wouldn’t even have to go to the doctor and pay 2-3 times that amount now. And it could be that the sinus infection had nothing to do with anything, and that I have a totally separate and new problem. For which I will have to see a pulmonary specialist. And we all know that “specialist” = more $$$.
I have a feeling that I am like most of the uninsured people out there. We all hear the horror stories of people in terminal, life-threatening, chronic situations who are denied coverage and suffer, sometimes die, as a result. But I believe a majority of people are in the middle. Do you buy insurance, or put that money to use where it will have an immediate effect? Insurance makes sense in the long run, but few probably see how it affects them today. It’s a tough choice to make when you are struggling to make ends meet.
The fact is, without insurance, I wouldn’t have bought that antibiotic. I wouldn’t have bought that ridiculously overpriced Nasonex (do people really need more proof of the need for regulation in the pharmaceutical industry?). And I would still have difficulty breathing, a problem that could escalate in financial cost, but also in personal cost.
People shouldn’t have to make a choice between basic care and putting food on the table. Between filling the gas tank, and taking care of themselves. I am lucky to have credit to pay for the care I needed today, which not everyone has. But using credit to pay medical expenses is a double-edged sword.
You have a chance to vote for a lot of things this year. Healthcare reform is one. There is no easy solution. But there is a candidate whose plan doesn’t resolve the issues I’ve mentioned: getting approved for individual coverage in the first place, affording it on a month-to-month basis, and having quality, low-cost preventive care. That candidate is McCain. Is Obama’s plan the ultimate solution? I am no expert in such things. But I do know what it’s like to go without insurance, and how difficult it is to maintain as an individual. Obama’s plan, call it socialist if you like, takes care of people like me. Maybe you don’t care, because you have insurance (probably through your employer). Under Obama's plan, you'll get to keep that insurance. But I work just as hard as you. I deserve the same care, and I shouldn’t have to sacrifice in order to get it. Remember that when you go to the polls this year. You are voting for policy that affects EVERYONE.