I haven’t had health insurance since the middle of 2004. Since 2004, I have held numerous part-time temporary positions, and I was employed for one full year as a full-time professor of anatomy & physiology at a local university, yet even then, I still wasn’t provided any health insurance. Further, I was unable to afford health insurance on the wages I was paid as a full-time “temporary” professor (nevermind that I can barely afford peanut butter and jelly as a PT temp). I am still uninsured, but now I am mostly unemployed and I have a growing pile of unpaid medical bills (for an ongoing medical condition that currently prevents me from working full-time) that I cannot afford .. as a matter of fact, I am now trying to deal with a law firm that is preparing to sue me for some of my many unpaid medical bills. But apparently, I am not the only one who is suffering from this unhappy lack of medical insurance, according to a report released yesterday by Families USA, an advocacy group for the uninsured. According to their report, 89.6 million Americans — one-third of us! — under the age of 65 were uninsured during all or part of 2006 and 2007. Further, the vast majority of the uninsured were employed full-time.
“It’s simply unacceptable that for lack of basic health coverage, nearly 90 million Americans had to live in fear of illness and injury in the last two years,” said Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, which oversees national healthcare programs.
So who are the uninsured in America? The profile might surprise you. The typical uninsured person is married, white, middle-aged, working full-time and has kids. But according to the Families USA report, the lack of health insurance affects every income group, every racial and ethnic group, and nearly every age group (people over 65 were not considered in this study since they are eligible for Medicare), as you can see in this table;
The report found several characteristics that uninsured people have in common. First, the vast majority of the uninsured are from working families. In fact, four out of five individuals (79.3 percent) who were uninsured at some point during 2006-2007 were part of working families whose employers did not provide health insurance, as you can see in the table below;
Second and more worrying, the majority of uninsured people remain so for substantial periods of time. The Families USA report reveals that nearly two-thirds (63.9 percent) of those without health insurance were uninsured for at least six months, and more than half (50.2 percent) were uninsured for nine months or longer;
As I can readily attest to, the effects of being uninsured, even for a short period of a few months, can be devastating, financially, psychologically and physically, especially since this situation is most common among those people who are at the peak of their earnings years;
Worse, as the period of time increases when one lacks health insurance, so do the chances of facing catastrophic financial and health problems.
Why are all these people uninsured? Are they hoping for a free hand-out from their employer or from the government so they can spend their money on plasma screen TVs and fancy dinners out on the town? Well, um, no. The truth is that most uninsured people who seek an individual insurance plan cannot find one that meets their needs and fits their budgets. For example, one recent survey found that nine out of 10 people who sought individual coverage never actually found a suitable a plan at all. This was either because they couldn’t find an affordable plan, they were rejected for coverage, or they were offered a plan that excluded coverage for the very care they were most likely to need.
So why don’t these people get a public health insurance plan, like Medicaid? Different states have vastly different requirements before Medicaid is awarded. In the case of working families, some states, such as NY (where I live), will provide children with Medicaid coverage if their parents earn less than 200 percent of the official poverty level ($34,340 for a family of three in 2007). However, it is astonishing to note that the working parents in this same family often are restricted to earning less than 65% of the federal poverty level ($11,161 for a family of three in 2007) if they are to qualify for Medicaid themselves.
Worse, the Medicaid system is terribly, terribly biased against single childless adults, like me, whether they work or not. In fact, in a significant number of states, a single childless adult can literally have nothing at all but the clothes on his or her back and still not qualify for Medicaid or disability-related health coverage (in fact, I was already rejected a few months ago by disability, against several doctor’s recommendations, and I expect I will be rejected for Medicaid after I’ve sent them all my paperwork, again).
So in short, the American health insurance crisis is just that: a crisis. It represents a complete lack of concern for the health and welfare of all citizens in this country, despite the fact that this is, afterall, the richest nation on Earth. Worse, besides the facts that (1) fewer employers are offering health insurance to their employees and that (2) rising medical insurance costs keep such insurance out of the reach of many working Americans, restrictive federal rules further complicate this issue by rendering many low-income working people, as well as the part-time or temporarily employed, unemployed or disabled people, completely ineligible for public health insurance programs, such as Medicaid.
So what will I personally do about my own lack of health insurance? I will refuse to seek or accept any medical care under any circumstances since I live in fear of losing my laptop and my parrots (the only “objects” I have with any value) to the law firm that is preparing to sue me.
But what can, and should, we as a society, do about this? I think that every American citizen should have at least basic health care coverage, regardless of their employment or reproductive status, especially those who earn less than $40k annually. But I think it is ridiculous to make it a federal law that people must be insured, as Hillary Clinton advocates, since this will effectively transform people like me who clearly cannot afford health insurance into criminals — as if I, and those like me, don’t have enough problems already! Because when it boils down to choosing between paying rent and health insurance at the end of every month, I choose rent every time. Should this make me, and people like me, into criminals?
But on the other hand, I’d sure like to hear your ideas.