Living in Fear: A Millennial without Health Insurance

I don’t have health insurance.

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That’s right. I’m 28 years old. I’ve had a house fire, a miscarriage, a divorce decree with my name on it, a bachelor’s degree, a teaching certificate, a master’s degree, more student loan debt than I’m willing to admit here, and a car payment. I’m an adult in all these ways, but I’ve spent most of my adult life without health insurance.

To be clear, I am not blaming anyone. That’s not the point of this post. I made my choices, starting with the decision to marry at 19, kicking me off of my father’s insurance and continuing with the decision to pursue a master’s degree, rather than enter the workforce as a full time teacher, earning me benefits. Just as the aforementioned student loan debt is no one’s fault but my own, so goes my lack of health insurance… and it sucks balls.

You hear the statistics of uninsured Americans and occasionally someone posts a Go Fund Me link on Facebook telling the horrifying tale of a 27-year-old melanoma victim who just wants to live until her son’s fifth birthday. No one ever talks about what it’s like to just be uninsured. No one really mentions the people who simply can’t justify paying a $200 monthly premium for government mandated coverage with a $3,000+ deductible, just so they can get a couple of asthma inhalers every year. The penalty for not doing so, by the way, is still less than two months of this worthless “insurance.” Personally, I’m a professional researcher and found a loophole, so I’ve never paid the penalty, but it would still be my preferred choice… which means living without health insurance.

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During college, I didn’t feel the effects of my lack of coverage so much. My mother did fund a root canal, after the dentist refused to start pulling teeth from a 20-year-old (glad it wasn’t a broken arm, Mom), but despite my morbid obesity, I was generally pretty healthy. I suppose the most profound healthcare issue I had was my miscarriage, but my state government actually has a fair resource for low-income pregnant women… emphasis on the word fair.

When I got pregnant, I received WIC and state funded doctor’s visits, so I could eat well and get the prenatal care I needed. God had other plans, though, and at 11 and a half weeks, I lost the baby. According to americanpregnancy.org, after 10 weeks, the chances of an incomplete miscarriage rise. I was nearly to my second trimester, but after a tearful few hours in the emergency room, I was sent home. I wasn’t referred to a physician, who could prescribe me pain medication. I wasn’t told to report for an ultrasound in a week to make sure pieces of my dead baby weren’t left behind, which could potentially kill me. I was sent home… without instructions of what level of pain to expect or how long I would bleed. That’s what it’s like to miscarry on low-income health insurance.

About a year later, I received a call from my step-mom telling me that I would once again qualify for my dad’s Blue Cross Blue Shield, until age 26. At this time, I was 23, so three years with insurance was a saving grace after five without.

As my 26th birthday neared, I made a half dozen doctors’ appointments. I got a pap smear and an eye exam and a final teeth cleaning. I visited the chiropractor as many times as I could and made an arrangement with one to let me pay cash after my coverage expired. Thankfully, when I hurt my back at 24, I was insured, because there’s no other way I could’ve afforded the treatment to gain the ability to fully straighten my right leg. On the eve of my 26th birthday, I prayed. I asked God to please grant me my health until I got a full time position and the benefits it afforded… as I did for the next two and a half years.

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When you don’t have health insurance, you live in constant fear of injury. live in constant fear of injury, regardless, because I regularly hit my head, but without insurance, everything is a risk. A trip to the wildlife refuge reminds you of the story you read about the guy who was bit by a rattlesnake there, while hiking. A day of swimming makes you question every mole you’ve ever had. An ice storm has you envisioning the bills attached to a fractured wrist. When your best friend buys you a heat gun for Christmas, you vow to save it for the day you get your insurance card. Even dating has you wondering about how much birth control will cost out of pocket and what to do in the case of an unwanted pregnancy. Every single sickness, no matter how normal, calls to mind the fundraiser for the woman who found out she had breast cancer at age 25. When your long-term boyfriend asks you to go on a romantic ski weekend with him, you recall the article about the woman who’s in debt for the next fifty years after being airlifted to a hospital.

It doesn’t improve your nerves that every concerned family member tells horror stories about people they’ve known without health insurance. Over Christmas, I had to explain to an aunt that, no, I wasn’t lucky I hadn’t gotten leukemia like her first husband did at 29; I was a statistical norm. Awkwardly, I also had to note that it wasn’t worth paying the premium because I was of “prime childbearing age,” because I’m not a candidate for the Mother of Christ.

I’m a pretty consistent blogger, y’all. I know there are times when I’m a bit more reliable than others, but I can usually be counted on to post every week or two, but I’ve been terribly ill. Last Monday, I woke in the morning to feverish chills and shaking. I called in to work, thinking it was a one day thing, happy I at least had paid sick leave. The next day, I woke feeling worse, after a night of getting up to pee every few minutes. After calling in sick, I pulled up my trusty physician Google, who reported I had a bladder infection. It wasn’t urgent, I read. I just had to drink a lot of water and it would be over in a couple of days. What a relief. I had an important training Wednesday morning. As long as it didn’t get to my kidneys, I was fine. Y’all, I literally felt the moment the infection entered my kidneys, during that training. After 30 minutes of sitting in rapidly increasing pain, I asked to speak to my boss in the hall… where I broke down and told him I had to go to the doctor.

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I drove 80 miles an hour to the Urgent Care clinic, sobbing to my Gramma, who told me to go and she’d pay for it. When I arrived, I was informed that my visit, which took all of 15 minutes, would cost $130. A nurse took me to the back, took my temperature, asked my weight instead of weighing me, and put me in a room. A doctor came in, asked my symptoms and agreed with Google. He literally did zero research and just prescribed an antibiotic and something for the pain.

I keep telling people that I was really sick, but no one seems to get how far the infection had apparently progressed. While the doctor seemed to think I might be able to make it to work the next day, the increasing pain seemed to disagree. My body didn’t seem to be responding to the antibiotics at all… not that I could afford to get a second opinion. That night, the pain was so intense that I went through my medicine cabinet and found some muscle relaxers, hoping they’d help me sleep… because I’d developed a sharp pain in my right side.

According to Google, I could be suffering from a number of things, from an appendicitis to an ectopic pregnancy to kidney stones… all of which would cost a fucking fortune to treat at the hospital and could be fatal if ignored. I found an old wives’ concoction that was supposed to help kidney problems and got up early in the morning to make it. The fever had gotten so bad that after mixing my apple cider vinegar/water/baking soda drink, I started to feel woozy, rushed to make it to the bed… and woke up on the floor, not sure where I was or how long I’d been there. I couldn’t tell up from down. I couldn’t stand. Thank God himself that I couldn’t reach my phone, because there is nothing more terrifying than waking up on your floor alone, with no idea where you are or what’s going on and no one to help you. In that moment, the possibility of financial ruin from an ambulance ride or emergency surgery meant nothing to me. I was petrified and had read nothing of these symptoms online. I’m also pretty sure Jake wouldn’t have appreciated the horrifying 6:00 am call of me incoherently telling him I needed help and couldn’t afford an ambulance. I mean, it’s not like my Gramma could help me down my stairs.

As a woman without health insurance, though, I did the only thing I could. I don’t know how long I lay there bargaining with God that I’d accept any emergency surgeries he had in mind, if he’d just wait until I was insured. Eventually, I was able to rise to my knees. Somehow, the glass of vinegar and water hadn’t entirely spilled. I downed it and crawled into bed in my vinegar soaked shirt… where I simply prayed I didn’t need to go to the hospital, now that the fear had subsided, and I went to sleep. A few hours later, I woke to find the pain in my side was now bearable. By God’s amazing graces, the vinegar concoction had worked.

I didn’t get well as soon as the doctor told me I would. On Saturday morning, Jake woke to me crying, because I was never going to get better. On Monday night, I left work early. On Tuesday evening, I still had a fever. At times, I wondered if perhaps I’d been misdiagnosed. I thought about returning to the Urgent Care clinic, but it was just too expensive, unless I was sure. I’d just have to wait it out.

Yesterday, I actually felt well enough to go shopping, on my day off. By the end of the trip I was exhausted. I’m still recovering from what was apparently an epic infection… not that I knew that, because the doctor I saw asked few questions and ran zero tests. I got lucky… and God gave me one last glimpse of life without insurance before mine kicks in on April 1st.

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10 thoughts on “Living in Fear: A Millennial without Health Insurance

  1. I am Canadian. I lived without dental insurance for three years. I whinge about having to pay more for my migraine medication that is safe to take while I am nursing. I’m now realizing just how much I owe Tommy Douglas (the man who decided everyone should have healthcare). Thank you for describing this Belle. It’s utterly terrifying and I’m sorry you are in this position.

    • It ends for me soon. It’d be great if the USA could get their priorities straight and decide what they do and don’t want to fund for the people, but it won’t negatively affect me after this month. It’s terrible that so many people are still struggling while they figure out what works for the people. Obamacare isn’t it.

  2. I’m so glad your insurance kicks in once April rolls around. That sounds so utterly terrifying. I live in Australia, so I don’t think twice about heading to the doctor if anything goes wrong – my local GP bulk bills as well (which means there’s no out of pocket for me). True, it means I sometimes get about 3 minutes with him and then I’m out the door, but that’s basically what you got and still had to fork out $130! I can’t imagine having to suffer through a brutal infection like that. It’s really put things into perspective for me. I know it’s quite socialist to be pro-universal healthcare, and it seems to be a very controversial topic in the US from what I’m seeing in the presidential race coverage, but I have to say I’m so glad we have it here, even if it does mean higher tax rates. I hope your country can figure out something that works for people, as it doesn’t sound like they’re there yet with Obamacare.

    • Obamacare is essentially free insurance for the poor. That’s all its accomplished at an amazingly high rate for everyone else, which of course only the middle class feels. I’m not as opposed to a single payer system as a lot of people, particularly considering my other rather conservative political views. The problem is the lack of prioritization. We can’t have all of these free social systems at the same time. Our tax rate isn’t even that low. It’s just that our taxes are being spread too thin (and likely pocketed in a lot of cases). We’re also HUGE, in comparison to countries with an effective health care system such as yours. Instead of attempting to regulate some national program, they need to do thing either by region or just by individual state. Either way, it’s truly awful for the people who live in fear of a really simple illness that, if left untreated, could actually kill them. I hope they work it out soon, because I may be in the clear, but so many others aren’t.

      • That’s true – the entire population of my country fills up about one of your large cities, so it’s a very different situation. I really hope someone can work out something that works for everyone, without the middle class being so highly impacted, so that people don’t have to be too scared of the bill to go to the hospital, and can get easier access to preventative or early health treatments. And I’m glad you pulled through alright in the end!

  3. I’ve spent most of my life uninsured for similar reasons. I remember how excited I was when I was able to be put back on my dads insurance for a few years. It was so nice not having to worry. I did the same as you and squeezed in every possible visit right before my birthday. However four months into being 26, I ended up with a life threatening Staph infection. Luckily the Urgent Care doctors here are much better than by you, and our Urgent Care has an onsite lab. The doctor ran tests and immediately prescribed the appropriate antibiotics. However the visit, testing, and drugs cost almost a weeks pay. For a while I had looked forward to health insurance being a perk of marriage, and then because his company couldn’t afford the ObamaCare rate hikes, the redesigned his hours and he was no longer insured. I am in the same boat. He works two jobs, while I work one but all of them are just shy of full time and therefore we didn’t have insurance. When I found out I was pregnant in December I began researching my options and they were grim. We make too much combined income to be eligible for state funded medicaid, and too much to be considered for a rebate on the premium. Because I live in NYC where everything is far more expensive that it should be I have to pay $420 a month and still have a $3,000 deductible. Just so that I can get the appropriate prenatal care needed. It absolutely kills our budget and I literally pray that a better system will be devised soon because this one is reeking havoc on middle class families.
    I’m glad your insurance kicks in next month, and I will say a prayer that you remain healthy until then. Feel better

    • I’m so sorry that you’re going through all of that. I’d have been in the same boat with pregnancy. I make far too much for state Medicaid now, but I’m also paying quite a bit in monthly student loans. My premium will only be $89 a month with work and my deductible $400. That’s nothing compared with what Obamacare would’ve afforded me. I’ll pray for you, as well. I know a lot of people are in the same devastating situation. If you ever get the urge to leave the city, though, I will tell you life is a lot more affordable in the middle of the country. I pay $545 a month for my two bed, two bath apartment, with washer and dryer hookups and as a librarian, I make just under $50,000 a year. Otherwise, I’ll pray you can stay where you want to be and soon some other system will take Obamacare’s place, because it’s an absolute disaster for the middle class.

  4. Oh gosh, Belle, that’s awful. I was almost in your shoes last year. My employer dropped coverage and left us all scrambling. I got what I thought was a good plan via Obamacare only to learn that prescriptions weren’t covered until the ridiculously high deductible was met. Sadly one of my Rheumatoid Arthritis meds is close to $2000 a month. I had to skip doses and borrow money for months until I hit the deductible. It was a nightmare. I’ve got my insurance back at work now but that time on Obamacare wrecked my bank account and really messed up my RA. I’m glad that you’re getting insurance soon.

    • Oh, that sounds awful. I’m glad you got it sorted! I have a friend who was diagnosed, at 28, with type 1 diabetes six days after her insurance took effect. She was lucky, because the hospital stay alone would’ve been $16,000. Here’s hoping something changes!

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