Guest Post: You Can Do Whatever You Want, So Long as You Have Health Insurance.
Healthcare, and the debate about its "reform," is a topic I think about a lot, especially as a patient with a chronic illness. Today, guest writer Sara Willi has offered to share her thoughts on this important debate, painting a personal picture of life with diabetes and the impact it has on her finances ... and her health.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at age 10. After that point as I was growing up my parents always said I could be whatever I wanted, as long as I had health insurance. Looking back, I realize they never limited me by my gender – my mother has risen through the ranks in a typically male-dominated career - or by my disease – I had a pretty regular childhood minus the shots and sugar-free candy. In my adult life, you wouldn’t know I’m diabetic until you see the insulin pump tubing trailing from my pocket. I have run half marathons, I have traveled to (and lived in) foreign countries and I even had an unplanned pregnancy which, while totally inadvisable considering my high A1C, resulted in a perfect child (that's a whole other story). I’m very lucky that at this point, nearly 23 years of diabetes hasn't shown itself yet in my eyes, kidneys, heart, or feet.
What has limited my life, and now my family’s, is the need to have health insurance. I did need to find a job with insurance after college and did so in Washington, D.C. Then I got married, became pregnant and my husband was tasked with ensuring he provided our health insurance so I could quit my job to be with our son. During our time in D.C. our monthly premiums through his work were more expensive than the rent for our two-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill. I eventually went back to work, this time taking my son with me as I managed a play room putting in 40+ hours a week to cover our insurance costs. After that became too stressful and I didn’t even have time for doctor’s appointments to use the expensive insurance we had, we decided to move back to the small town that I was from. My husband could keep his job and work from home and I wouldn't have to work, but as we were now paying even more for PPO insurance so I could see doctors in our new town, we moved in with my parents.
This year we will pay more than $26,000 in direct health care costs (paid almost entirely for me as my husband and son require only a check-up here and there). Our health insurance premiums are taken out every two weeks pre-tax at $950 for 26 weeks equaling $24,700 this year. I pay $35/month for insulin equaling $420 this year. My out-of-pocket expenses are $1,500 for me individually this year before our PPO insurance kicks in to pay the rest (with my new insulin pump this year and monthly doctors visits, I’m already there). The total is $26,620. I try desperately not to think of what we’d do with that extra money (house, car, college savings), but unfortunately we have no choice.
We spent a little time looking into alternatives if we were to go out on our own by getting insurance through a health insurance website. The monthly premiums were still high and the plan that would’ve worked best for us didn’t cover maternity expenses for the first 18 months. We couldn’t take that chance knowing the cost of my 2007 c-section alone would have been $35,000 without insurance. I looked at the Health Insurance Risk Sharing Plan (high risk pool) for my state, but that isn’t a viable option either. I would need to be uninsured for at least 6 months to qualify. This is not a good option for a Type 1 diabetic considering the great cost of prescriptions, labs, doctor’s visits or the random medical emergency (like my 2009 appendectomy that would have cost $22,000 without insurance).
As a mother, I constantly worry that my child will develop diabetes, or any other chronic disease. Not that a disease would necessarily limit his life (it hasn't mine), but that he might be limited by the need to have health insurance and it would mean the end to his ability to dream big about his life. I would have to advise him, as my parents did for me, that he can be whoever he wants to be, as long as he has health insurance. Instead, I hope he can make his career decisions based on what he wants to do, not the benefits package. I hope he can live in a country that values the health of all her citizens, no matter how much money they do (or don’t) make. I hope he can live in a world that realizes we are all of us mortal, we will all need health care someday and it shouldn't be a choice to afford medication or to afford life's other basics like food or housing. I hope he can use his hard earned money toward reaching his American dream, instead of spending it on managing a disease.
Whatever your opinion on health care reform, I encourage you to take a serious in-depth look at the options the two candidates put forth and take a stand for what you support. Perhaps your situation, unlike mine, has been easy and you don’t think we need health care reform in this country. Perhaps your situation has been similar to or even worse than mine. Either way, chances are if you read Kerri’s blog, you or someone in your life deals with diabetes – a chronic disease that requires constant control at potentially great expense. Who better to inform the decision making process on health care in this country than those who need it most?
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What are your thoughts on this important issue, and how it may map out, come November?