For the first time in my life, I am without health insurance and it is a terrible feeling.
In the past, I paid attention to the health care debate as a speechwriter who prepared speeches, talking points, op-eds, and debate prep material on the topic at different times for John Edwards, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and others. Now, I'm paying attention because I'm a citizen up the creek without a paddle.
Throughout my life, I have been very lucky because my insurance has always been there whenever I had a crisis. When my 10-speed hit a patch of leftover winter sand, and I went flying into a telephone pole, it covered the x-rays and stitches and concussion diagnosis. When a half a ton of sheet rock fell on me, my insurance paid for the cast on my foot. When my depression kicked in and I was hospitalized and painting ceramic pieces in art therapy to boost my self-esteem (sheesh), it made sure that when I got home my medical bills didn't make me reach for a razor. And when there were growths in my uterus, it covered that medical procedure and every regular check-up, lab test, broken bone, sports injury, and antibiotic prescription in between.
Since I care more about my country than my personal pride, here's how I lost my insurance: I moved. That's right, I moved from Washington, D.C., back to Massachusetts, a state with universal health care.
In D.C., I had a policy with a national company, an HMO, and surprisingly I was very happy with it. I had a fantastic primary care doctor at Georgetown University Hospital. As a self-employed writer, my premium was $225 a month, plus $10 for a dental discount.
In Massachusetts, the cost for a similar plan is around $550, give or take a few dollars. My risk factors haven't changed. I didn't stop writing and become a stunt double. I don't smoke. I drink a little and every once in a while a little more than I should. I have a Newfoundland dog. I am only 41. There has been no change in the way I live my life except my zip code -- to a state with universal health care.
Massachusetts has enacted many of the necessary reforms being talked about in Washington. There is a mandate for all residents to get insurance, a law to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage because of a pre-existing condition, an automatic enrollment requirement, and insurance companies are no longer allowed to cap coverage or drop people when they get sick because they forgot to include a sprained ankle back in 1989 on their application.
Even if the economy was strong and I was working more, I still couldn't afford my premium. I am not alone; I've got 46 million friends in a similar situation. We wake up every day worried that a bad cough, an accident while walking the dog, or that dreaded pain on the right side of the abdomen will send us into complete financial ruin.
As luck would have it, I didn't schedule a physical before I left D.C. I thought I could get that taken care of when I moved -- after all they had reforms, automatic enrollment, and universal coverage in Massachusetts, all the things I'd written about for politicians. Health care would be affordable. It didn't dawn on me that it would just be affordable for other people.
Now, sharing my experience doesn't make me an expert in health care policy anymore more than my knowledge that Kajagoogoo sings "Too Shy" makes me an expert in music. What my story does is serve as a cautious reminder that we need to get this right, not right away. A rushed bill will have consequences. Reforms will not be cheap and some people may be priced out.
How could all of these weeks and months go by and no one is examining and talking about what has worked and what hasn't worked in Massachusetts? (continues here)