My Health Insurance Didn't Protect Me From Thousands Of Dollars In Medical Debt: Why I (And Maybe You Too) Need The Affordable Healthcare Act

By all accounts, it’s a miracle I’m alive. In fact, I hear my doctor got a sweet passage into a medical journal because of my case. But side effect of being alive is an absolutely suffocating level of debt.

Oct 4, 2013 at 5:00pm | Leave a comment

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Eight years ago, when I left a copyediting job in a publishing house to go freelance, my mother was aghast.
 
“But what are you going to do about health insurance? You need health insurance!”
 
At the time, I was 25 and had the delusional belief that the invincibility youth affords. I believed health insurance was effectively taking several hundred dollars a month of my hard-earned income and flushing it down the toilet. At the time, I was still living with my parents in Gravesend and if I was going to be spending money on ANYTHING, it was to get the heck out of there and into my own place.
 
Eventually, I acquiesced, getting the most affordable group health insurance rate I could find through an Editorial Freelancers Association. As far as I was concerned, it was “in case I was hit by a bus” insurance -- I’d never actually use it, but I’d have it just in case. Issues like limited drug coverage and high deductibles didn’t even register on my radar. 
 
Until it became everything.
 
About 18 months ago, I was returning from a press breakfast when I was overcome by an unspeakable pain in my back and neck. It was the kind of pain where I couldn’t walk -- couldn’t move -- out of nowhere. I took an Excedrin, assuming I had pulled a muscle while holiday shopping -- and promptly vomited and passed out on my bathroom floor.
 
Luckily, my mother had come to see me and found me a short time later and got me to the hospital. It turned out a vein had burst in my uterus -- and the pain I felt was more than half the blood in my body pooling in my now-distended belly. I had to have emergency exploratory surgery (the scars haunt me to this day) -- and I spent nearly three days unconscious in ICU.
 
By all accounts, it’s a miracle I’m alive. In fact, I hear my doctor got a sweet passage into a medical journal because of my case. But side effect of being alive is an absolutely suffocating level of debt.
 
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My medical insurance covered my surgery and hospital stay -- following the meeting of a $5,000 deductible. About six months after my first surgery, I needed another one -- and another hospital stay -- it was technically another calendar year -- so it was another $5,000. All this time, I was paying $300+ a month in health insurance, and yet, somehow I still owe $10,000 in medical bills.
 
Speaking as a freelancer who spent much of the last year with limited mobility and access to our sources of income, I can’t even begin to say how much this has destroyed my savings. In fact, I no longer have any savings to speak of.
 
I speak to my friends around the world, and they are mystified that America -- this allegedly great nation -- is a place where people literally have to choose between their livelihood and their life. A place where people who can’t afford healthcare die every day. 
 
Many people -- millions of people -- already have health coverage through their employers. They may or may not care about Obamacare. But it gives them an option -- to choose a plan they like better, that is more affordable. One that will now cover prescription drugs, mental health care -- many things that used to be optional and now aren’t.
 
We shouldn’t be afraid to go for yearly skin cancer screenings or routine checkups because we are afraid of a staggering bill. Fear of spending money on the doctor can kill us. It may have killed me -- maybe if I was smarter and better about going for regular checkups, I’d have not gone through the hell I went through. What I’m still going through.
 
I’m not very much into politics, generally. But I’m into the people I love sticking around -- and with the Affordable Care Act, no one can be turned away from health insurance because of pre-existing conditions or how much money they make. And everyone below a certain income level is going to going to finally get access to free or discounted health care -- and options to shop around and choose the plan right for them. Hopefully, in time to get their life in order.
 
I think even with this act, the American Health Care system has a REALLY long way to go (what we are getting with Obamacare is simply a watered-down version of what much of the rest of the world already has for free) -- but, still, you know, it’s better than being buried. (Or buried in debt, as it is.)