Health Care Consciousness-Raising Testimony

For the past ten years, since graduating from college in 2007, I haven’t had consistent healthcare. As a freelancer (and previously a barista and waitress) over the past 10+ years, I have never had access to healthcare through a job. Until the Affordable Care Act was instated, I was uninsured. And up until this year, I was unable to fully utilize my health insurance and fully take care of my health, due to high deductibles. This year I qualified for Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) extended program. I am the healthiest, and in turn, probably the happiest, I have been in my adult life. But because so many others still lack heath insurance- or are under-insured- I fear that the country won’t rally against healthcare cut backs. I doubt my story is unique and many people- especially women- will relate to my struggle to take care of my health.

About 10 years ago, in Philadelphia, PA, my husband (then boyfriend) found a relatively affordable health insurance plan. When I looked into the exact same plan, it was more expensive for me; I was told it was because I am a woman and was marked with a pre-existing condition of anxiety. Pre-ACA, premiums were higher for women than men, and costly pre-existing conditions didn’t need much to be substantiated. I could not afford the premium that was offered for me, so my husband was able to have health insurance, but I was not. 

When we moved to NY a few years later, we looked into getting a plan with the same insurance company that my husband had in PA. In NY, the same plan from the same company was over 12 times more expensive & the coverage was worse. We resigned ourselves to now both being uninsured, as neither of us got insurance through our jobs and we could not find any affordable plans.

When the ACA was instated a few years later, we signed up as soon as we could. There were some great and not so great aspects of these new plans. There were no more exploitative differences in rates between women and men and no more discriminatory higher rates based on pre-existing conditions. With the help of a subsidy, we could afford the monthly premium for the ‘Bronze Plan’ (the lowest ring of plans aside from the ‘Catastrophic Plan’). But while we were “covered”, the plan had a very high deductible ($6,000 each/year) and very little coverage. I was over 29, and too old for the government subsidy for the catastrophic plan. Because of our high deductible, we ended up using the Bronze Plan as a Catastrophic Plan. My husband and I only used the plan for the yearly physical; my husband once tried to get medical advice during the physical and the doctor told him that he’d have to make an appointment to talk about any issues outside of the general physical. Regular appointments were not included in our plan’s coverage. We couldn’t afford to be paying out of pocket until the deductible was met. We paid our premium every month just to have one physical a year and an emergency room cap.

The following year, the ACA automatically re-signed us up for a new plan. Our premiums went up. We were confused and went into a clinic connected to Health First. The rep told us that there had been a mistake in the system, and we were over paying. She fixed the glitch and told us the difference for the over pay would be reflected in next year’s taxes. Then she told us that Obama had introduced a new level of plans that year for people like us: people that made too much for the current qualification for Medicaid but too little to afford the plans that were available the year before. She signed us up for one of those new plans; our premium and deductible decreased. But lower premiums aside, I still didn’t go to the doctor other than my yearly physical and OBGYN visit; the deductible was still too high.

That following year, the ACA re-signed us up for a plan. Due to the new extended Medicaid expansion, to our surprise, Medicaid cards showed up in the mail with our names on them. Medicaid has changed my life. Not having to worry about a deductible has allowed me to go to the doctor to finally treat a medical issue (endometriosis) I have had my whole life, as I now don’t need to worry about the costs of follow up visits or tests. I feel the healthiest I have in my adult life right now. Simply knowing that I am able to take care of my health without the worry of bills coming after visits, has opened doors to so many forms of self-care.  

Everyone deserves the healthcare I have. Our country could afford to provide that care if we had a single payer healthcare system. A single payer system like Medicare-For-All would eliminate private insurance company and CEO profits, and use that money to provide people with healthcare. Care would be based on need- not ability to pay. 95% of the population would pay less for healthcare, and the top 5% would pay slightly more.

Medicaid is stigmatized because it is income based; I worry that my coverage will be the first to be cut. I hope that instead, the country rallies for ALL of us to have comprehensive healthcare coverage.

- Gabrielle