One of the things sadly and remarkably absent from this year's long debate over the push to reform our nation's health care system are the personal stories that help people understand just how important this change is, and the kind of difference it can make to people's lives. So here is a brief perspective on why I am so thankful for tonight's history making legislation.
Most of my life health insurance is something I took for granted. Both of my parents had full time jobs and for my entire childhood, all the way through college I was on one of their plans. Of course, the fact that I had health insurance in the first place never really entered my consciousness, because thankfully I was a pretty healthy kid. The most I saw of our health care system was a yearly visit to the doctor's for a physical and check up.
After I graduated and got a full time job, I continued my march right through my twenties with the same kind of blissful ignorance and lack of appreciation for health insurance. For me, health insurance had always been a given and not something I ever really needed. It was true when I was a kid, and true when I was a healthy 20-something.
In fact, the first time I gave health insurance any thought whatsoever was after I married Arin, when switching to a PPO just seemed like a good idea so that we could both continue to see the doctors we had been seeing, but now under the same plan. But again, all I had to do was check a box on a form, pay a whopping $30 extra per month out of paycheck and presto: health insurance. Truly a beautiful thing.
Fast forward to 2008.
In November of 2008 two things happened. The first was Arin learning that she was pregnant with our second child. Then two weeks later me getting laid off after working at a company I dearly loved for four years.
On the plus side, thanks to COBRA I had the peace of mind knowing that I had a good health insurance plan to cover my wife during her pregnancy and our child's birth. The downside being that our monthly COBRA bill was close to $1500.
If that doesn't sound like a lot of money to you, consider this: $1500 per month was close to 25% of my annual take home pay after taxes, while I was employed.1
My friends were quick to inform me that I was paying too much, that I could get a much better rate if I shopped around. They were of course absolutely correct, however, they did not take into consideration one small snag: my wife was pregnant, and that pregnancy, get this, is considered by insurance companies to be a "pre-existing condition" thank-you-very-much. Meaning, that while I was free to drop our COBRA coverage and switch to a less expensive health insurance option, whichever provider I chose, even if I chose the exact same one, would not cover the costs of Arin's pregnancy and delivery. I was quite simply: screwed.
Unbelievable. Pregnancy. A pre-existing condition. Pregnancy! We are not talking about an illness here. We are not even talking about a chronic condition. We are in fact talking about something that is so natural, and so beautiful that many might argue it is why we were put on this Earth in the first place.
Yet, there you go. Forget the fact that Arin is healthy. Forget the fact that Arin's pregnancy showed no risk signs whatsoever. Forget the fact that Arin's first pregnancy went without a hitch, didn't require costly drugs or pain-killers, and was over and done with in just under three and half hours. No let's ignore the facts and blindly discriminate against a family in their time of need2.
Now, fast forward a year and a half, to the present day. Our nation is poised to pass legislation that will forbid such abusive practices by insurance companies. And while I wish such practices had already been illegal when I was laid off, I rest peacefully knowing that my son and daughter will not live in a country where insurance companies could so openly and cavalierly discriminate against them in a time of need.
1 If you do the math it doesn't take a rocket scientist to learn that I got paid pretty well. So consider for a moment the kind of percentage $1500 per month might equate to for the average middle class American. The thought is simply staggering.
2 Thank goodness our family was not dealing with something more serious and more life threatening. And God, consider those families who are and all of a sidden find themselves without an insurance provider they can switch to.