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

May 2nd, 2013 6:05 PM

Health Care Injustice in America – Painful Reality

It is terrifying to live on the edge of health care and financial ruin in America. And it is so unnecessary. I read in the New York Times yesterday that President Obama wasn't awfully worried about health insurance costs rising under the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because only about 10 to 15 percent of Americans who do not have employer-based coverage and who will need to purchase coverage on the exchanges will feel the impact of grossly higher premiums and expenses. Well, that was annoying to read, to say the least, speaking from the belly of the beast as one of those about whom he feels little concern. Sad commentary.

So, how did I get myself to the place where I do not have coverage? I had a job that included insurance benefits. The coverage still left me with thousands in deductibles and co-insurance to pay every year, but it was certainly better than not having insurance. But my body couldn't handle the work load it took to keep the job. I had a second round with cancer, two surgeries and oncology infusions in 2012, and though I fought my way back each time, I just didn't have the strength to do all that was physically required of me to retain my position and perform in it as was required of me. I could feel the constant pressure of those who thought I wasn't measuring up, and that stress was awful for my health. It felt as though it was just a matter of time before I'd be replaced. I was told in no uncertain terms that my long range health status would have to be more certain in order for me to be considered for any different work or roles. The walls were closing in on me from every direction as the stronger and more healthy souls stepped up and over me because such is the world of working in modern America. 

So there I was working to advance single-payer, Medicare for all, yet I was so alone and so scared and unable to figure out how to make everything work out. My family back in Colorado wanted us to come home. So when I heard about a wonderful chance to be part of a small, non-profit in Colorado that is working on single-payer reform on the state level, I knew it was a chance to make the transition that would at least keep me more emotionally supported. I also knew there was a chance I might not be able to afford my COBRA benefits of more than $800 month just to keep my health coverage (no dental, no vision). But chances to come home and feel less frightened about losing one's job along with my need to not be under so much stress made the decision for me. I left colleagues I truly loved behind, but I also left behind those who saw me as damaged, flawed, sick and too weakened to be of use. And back in Colorado I had new colleagues who loved and supported me (http://www.healthcareforallcolorado.org/mayday) but who do not have the financial resources to cover my health insurance costs.

Not every American who has a job with benefits can keep that job without offsetting trauma. That is one big reason we need to move away from employer-based health benefits to an improved and expanded Medicare for all for life model in America. No one should feel forced to make the choices I just made or that millions of other Americans face every day. No cancer patient should feel like a failure. No 58-year-old who has worked a lifetime to keep herself and her loved ones safe should feel so unsafe at this stage of life.

But, so be it. I have searched for policies that will cover me even for catastrophic issues, but to no avail so far. I tried applying for Kaiser individual coverage. No way to make that work so far. I don't have any pressing health concerns at this time, except for passing on my cancer rechecks for now and weaning off some of the meds that I know will be too expensive without insurance. We'll see how that goes in the weeks ahead. 

Peace for today, peace. 

If you'd like to follow my daily journal, I post at donnasicko.blogspot.com

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