So, this blog is pretty much the furthest thing from a politics blog.
And, I also know that not everyone who reads Austin Eavesdropper is necessarily a Democrat, or an Obama supporter. The post you are about to read comes from the perspective of both of those things, but more importantly, it comes from the perspective of someone who got sick over the weekend.
If you are anti-Obama, anti-health care reform, or simply, "wh-WHAT? Politics, bleh!!" then you can hop out of this post right now, no hard feelings. May I recommend this wonderful alternative?
That being said, if you are indeed anti-Obama or anti-health care reform, maybe this post will help you understand why a girl like me -- healthy and employed -- is desperate for her country to provide better health care.
* * *
I started this post in the middle of the night between Sunday and Monday, and for about 36 hours, I've been dealing with a super nasty stomach bug. I think it's just about run its course, thank God (and thank Pepto Bismol).
But last night, just as the Oscars were getting started, I started making some phone calls to local clinics. Without getting too graphic about it, I lost five pounds this weekend in a rather unattractive manner. I'll let you use your imagination. Since I'm pretty small, five pounds is a lot for me.
The first place I called was the People's Clinic here in Austin. I used to go there years ago when I didn't have any health insurance. The clinic was closed, but fortunately they had an after-hours line with a kind nurse. She asked me about my insurance.
"Um ... I have private insurance," I told her, nervously. "But my deductible is so high that I'd probably pay out of pocket."
"Oh," she said. "The Clinic doesn't take the privately insured."
Now let's back up.
I am technically a contract worker, so I don't have company health care. Ross works for a school that we love, but it does not provide health care either. We have to buy a private plan.
Secondly: "Deductibles." Up until very recently I was a total insurance bonehead and had no idea what "deductibles" were. That is the amount you have to pay at the hospital or doctor's office before your insurance kicks in and starts covering things. Ours is $5000. Which is what's commonly known as "hit by a bus" insurance. So, unless a visit is more than $5000, Ross and I are paying for the visit ourselves.
Last summer, shortly after I became a contract worker and right before Ross left for Brazil, I shopped around online for private insurance and found the very best plan I could. For Ross and I both, this insurance is about $300/month, and it does not cover dental or maternity. For us, that amount feels like a lot, but we know we have to have it in case something truly awful (piano on the head, hair dryer electrocution, food poisoning as a result of my cooking?) did befall us.
Now, back to the story.
Since the People's Clinic wouldn't see a patient like me, the nurse on the phone gave me the number for Austin Regional Clinic and one other facility, NextCare. I tried ARC first; closed. It was a Sunday evening, after all. So I called NextCare.
"HELLO!" chirped the girl answering the phone. "And how may NextCare help you today!"
I explained to her my stomach situation, as well as my insurance situation.
"Visits start at $200 and go up to $450!" she sang into the phone. My face fell.
"You can also buy a ValueCare Card for $50 upon your visit which can help you save moneeeey!" she said.
"So, if I did that, my minimum visit cost would then be $250?" I asked.
"Oh! Um ... yes," she stumbled, her cheerfulness tempered by an unexpected question. "Yes, for your visit, minimum $200, plus the card, it would be $250, maximum it would be $500."
"Thank you," I said, and hung up.
* * *
I decided to wait it out. My stomach still hurts a little.
I think a lot of people with medical issues decide to just wait it out, because unless they have employer insurance, private is kind of a joke.
So it upsets me when people who are lucky enough to have employer-based insurance, or have the means to buy extremely thorough private insurance, get hateful and up in arms about health care reform.
In all likelihood, what I had this weekend was a simple stomach flu. But what if it was something more serious? What if I had discovered some weird lump on my body? Broken my arm? Had a minor heart attack?
Answer: Ross and I would be out A LOT OF MONEY. And oddly, we are both employed. We take care of ourselves. We did the responsible thing, we did shop around for health care.
But I'm sorry, the theory that government should stay out of health care, because competition among private insurers will make insurance more affordable, just simply is not the case.
Why? Because people need health care. When it's your health, you will pretty much pay whatever you have to, because what choice do you have? You can either cough up a lot of money, or you can wait it out like I'm doing, and hope for the best.
* * *
By now it's an old refrain, but it's still true: It's about freaking time we had health care reform in the United States.
I live in a city of freelancers -- Austin -- and our city represents a trend that more individuals want to follow nationwide. That is: Working for yourself.
As it stands though, affordable health care is almost completely dependent on company employment. I don't think companies are evil, but I do think there is an implicit assumption here. That is:
I mean really. If you're out of work and sick, you're just supposed to go into debt and that's that? Besides that being inhumane, that doesn't even make sense to me from an economic standpoint. If a sick individual has the means to get better, that means he or she can more quickly re-enter the workforce.
ANYWAY. I went to the Wikipedia page for Obama's health care plan tonight. Before I wrote this post and risked either A) pissing people off or B) boring people to death, I wanted to get my facts straight.
Some of the biggest (and in my opinion most awesome) changes include:
--Everybody in the U.S. has to buy health insurance. (If you cannot pay for it, you can go on Medicaid). Which is just like car insurance in the state of Texas. Let's face it: Unless it's a legal issue, most people don't buy insurance unless they absolutely have to. But when everybody buys in, the pool of available health care funds is larger. That means we're helping each other stay healthy and get well, rather than relying solely on corporately-run health insurance companies.
--You'll be able to go online and comparison-shop for health care. If you're like me, and don't have employer-based insurance but you're also not on a government program, like Medicaid or Medicare, you can buy private on an Internet site which lists plans side-by-side. Massachusetts has this already, and as a little test I filled it out just now for Ross and I. I found a plan that is more expensive monthly ($480/month), but instead of a $5000 deductible it's a $250 deductible. WHICH IS KIND OF AMAZING. This is what happens when a state agency works with corporate health care plans: The site only allows plans that have gotten their stamp of approval, so they generally don't allow stupid $5000 deductibles.
--Insurance companies can't refuse you if you're already sick. Ah, the pre-existing condition. Right now, you basically can't get health care insurance if you have cancer or diabetes. But some insurers currently reject you if you have acne or asthma! I'm not making this up. I think everyone, including Republicans, recognizes that this is a problem.
To be fair, I Googled "Republican health care plan 2011." I wanted to see if Republicans had in fact outlined an alternative to Obama's health care plan, since by and large they do not seem to like it.
According to this January story by The New York Times, many Republicans want to repeal Obama's health care plan but still want to accomplish many of the same objectives: They want to help people with pre-existing conditions find affordable coverage, want to lower health insurance premiums, etc.
But they did not say how this would happen.
They also do not "want to impose detailed federal requirements on individuals, families, employers or states."
So ... I don't think this is a "plan," exactly.
(PS. I realize it's The New York Times, so if you are a Republican reading this and believe that particular news outlet is biased, please feel free to send over a story on this same topic by a different news outlet.)
Now, anyone who's seen Precious knows that there are some people who take advantage of the system, who abuse federal or state-run programs like welfare. This is true and I can't deny it.
But I think there are a ton of us who are making a decent living, are individuals contributing to our society, are healthy and employed, who have quite simply been failed by health insurance companies. We don't want to take advantage of the system; we just want some system that will help us stay well, and not go into debt.
* * *
It makes me cringe whenever I hear people say: "I shouldn't have to pay for some stranger's medical bill!" regarding health care and taxes.
But I think they miss out on something potentially beautiful when they adopt that kind of thinking.
Because when you theoretically "pay for some stranger's medical bill," you are entering into a partnership. Eventually, someone will help you pay for your medical bill. Taxes -- which we, and every citizen in every developed nation pay -- are a symbol that we're all in this together. Someone out there helped fund the paved street you drive on today. Another person helped pay for the delivery of your mail.
Americans have always had a fraught relationship with taxes. And I know Obama's health care bill is a lot bigger than taxes: It's a fundamental shift in philosophy, that we stop trusting companies so much, and start trusting our government a little more, to take care of us. Which to many sounds laughable.
But this girl and her stomach flu says, BRING ON HEALTH CARE REFORM. I cannot wait for 2014 when most of this stuff goes into effect. Some of you might be reading right now saying, "poor, poor naive girl. She just doesn't know what she's in for. Obama truly has her duped."
Look, if Obama's health care plan really is the spawn of Satan, then we can vote to change it. That's the great thing about being in a democracy. In the meantime, I'm just so happy that someone finally gave health care reform a shot, and that we at least have the opportunity to try something different.
Did you hear that? It was my stomach growling in agreement.