obamacare

How Obamacare Saved My Life

diabetes

I take a handful of pills in the morning. Every morning. A couple of vitamins, yeah, but mostly it’s meds to cover various ailments and conditions. Apparently, I drew the short straw when it comes to general health. Every so often, one of the conditions flares, or I get some flu or bronchial thing, and we have to add a pill or two. That means two handfuls of pills, because I can’t swallow them all at once.

This routine comes after I’ve already pricked my finger to draw some blood to test my sugars so I know how much and which kind of insulin I need to take. There are two. I test my sugars several times a day, and, these days, seem to be taking more insulin every time I test. Yay me.

The diabetes is the worst offender, but there’s also neuropathy and retinopathy, asthma, fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. I can never build an ark again, due to cubital tunnel syndrome on top of carpal tunnel, golf elbow and tennis elbow in both arms. Who knew I was so athletic? There are eye issues. There’s an early kidney thing and we need to watch my liver pretty carefully.

But I manage pretty well. Those tests, those pills, are all before coffee. Then my day, a slow hustle and bustle of writing, study, work at a small non-profit, interspersed with testing and needles and a teenaged son and a life that is full and good. And then, just before bed, another handful of mostly different pills, somewhat smaller than the morning pills. Lucky me.

To sleep, perchance to dream Between leg cramps that can make my eyes water and scare the cat (and my son) half to death, and the lovely gifts that only menopause can bring, sleep is a coy lover, and I don’t always win the chase.

A couple of years ago, I was fired from my job. It was an awesome job that I loved, but the distractions of slowly creeping health issues (on my part) and a son who was beginning to fray around the edges due to my constant travel for the job–it all snowballed into an amicable and understanding termination on both our parts.

I was 50-something when I got fired. Fate had intervened and pushed me smack dab into the middle of my wildest dream: I would be a writer. Full time. I created a program that allowed me to capitalize on my strengths: teaching and writing and a passion for Judaism. I had been in sales and marketing for a couple of decades; now I could transfer those skills to this. Best, it kept me close to home, which was essential at that point.

Living the American Dream, but actually more like piecing together the puzzle version of the American dream. There were a couple of dicey moments, when all the various paychecks didn’t stretch quite far enough, but I managed to make it work. A permanent job as Director at the non-profit, with hours flexible enough so I can study and be home as needed came at exactly the right time. I make enough to keep the wolves at bay–food on the table and a roof over our heads.

But it’s still not enough to pay for all my doctors (and I have a veritable stable of them) or my meds. Or my insurance premiums. I was out of corporate life and now self-employed. I was in my mid-50s and I had a host of conditions that any one would raise a red flag at best, and preclude me from coverage at worst.

Frankly, I had stayed at my last corporate job precisely because of the insurance. All I knew, when I left that job was this: thank God for the Affordable Care Act! Thank God for Obamacare.

I would have died, were it not for the insurance I could get through the Marketplace. No pre-existing conditions. No lapse in care or coverage. All my meds, all my doctors transferred with me. And I could afford it the first year.

The second year was much trickier. My premiums skyrocketed. My coverage became much weaker, and my out of pocket expense was at the very edge of doable. I was terrified. And that’s when I found out that, because of the extended care that Obamacare protected, I was eligible for Medicaid.

I know, I know–a dirty little secret, at least the way I see it. Don’t get me wrong: I’m a community-organizing-direct-action-died-in-the-wool progressive, who will gladly fight for the rights of the poor. Healthcare is a right, not a privilege in my book. And there is no shame in getting the assistance that you need, participating in the safety net that was established for just these reasons–for others. Not for me.

But when I spoke with the service rep on the phone, when he told me that I qualified for Medicaid, that I would get my medications–that run thousands of dollars every month without insurance–would be covered, as would my doctors–I cried. I swallowed my pride and slipped into the safety net that was designed to catch people who slipped through the cracks.

And because of this, I take those handfuls of pills, and I poke and prod and inject myself. Thanks to the ACA,I can breathe. I can mostly bend. I can metabolize food. I can see, walk, take care of my son, and pay my bills (mostly on time). I am a functioning member of society. And there will be a day, I promise you, that my Poet/Scholar-in-residence program will take off, and my books will like the shelves of bookstores and homes throughout the land, and I will no longer need the assistance of medicaid.

These past few months, I was once again, frightened to death that all of this will be taken away. All the doctors. All the meds. All the needles and test strips. It would all disappear in an instant if the current administration, and congress, repealed and “replaced” the Affordable Care Act. Twenty-six million people would lose their coverage. The number boggles the mind. Who can hold that much in their head?

But I am one of those 26 million. I’m not a number. I’m a writer and a mother and an administrator and a friend and a student and a tax-payer and a citizen. And this administration cares so little about me and the rest of the people who fall through the cracks, who don’t make a six figure income, that they reduce us to numbers, that can be easily subtracted out of the equation.

The repeal effort didn’t work this time, but clearly we need a “fix” that builds on Obamacare and makes it better.

If I had an answer, I’d shout it. But I don’t. It’s a complex, nuanced, needing-more-that-140-characters problem that needs the same kind of solution. The one thing I know for sure is that, while we search for a solution, we cannot take away something that allows so many to hang on, to catch their breath and put one foot in front of the other. The reprieve we’ve gotten from the collapse of the “repeal” is only temporary. We cannot take health care away. We cannot reduce people to numbers and erase them from the solution. We need health care for everyone, now.

The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. Comments are moderated, so use your inside voices, keep your hands to yourself, and no, we're not interested in herbal supplements.

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