(aren't all politics personal? Just wanted to share something here and then I'll shut up until after Tuesday.)
After I lost my job in 2008, I paid for COBRA for as long as I could legally do so. I did it on a freelancer's salary. I had little savings, which I was forced to use for stupid things like rent and food during the lean months. Then I moved to Austin for a job with a small agency that didn't offer health insurance (but hey, a regular salary and living in Austin? All good).
So in early 2010, my "healthcare" involved crossing my fingers, praying, and skipping medication (I take Metformin for Type 2 Diabetes) and meals to keep my blood sugar down. I lost 20 lbs. in the first couple of months after I moved, some due to stress and some from skipping meals to keep my BG low.
People who oppose "Obamacare" (mostly Republicans but I don't want to say ALL Republicans) think that people who don't have health insurance should just go to an emergency room if they get sick. There are a lot of problems with that logic, including the fact that taxpayers have to eat those costs when the uninsured person cannot pay an emergency room bill. Also, reactive healthcare is NOT THE SAME as proactive healthcare. I found out the hard way in March of 2010 when I ended up in the ER with acute pancreatitis.
I had been sick for weeks with nausea and pain in my abdomen. I was dizzy a lot, but attributed it to skipping meals. I had cut my dose of Metformin in half so I could make it last (my doctor in Charleston prescribed a few month's worth because she knew my COBRA ended the same month I moved to Austin). Even when it got so bad I could hardly stand up to take my dog outside, I didn't do anything. A few days later, I was working in my office at the agency when the pain in my abdomen was so bad I couldn't take a full breath. I called an "ask a nurse" hotline and they told me to get my ass to a hospital immediately.
I drove myself to the closest emergency room, which happened to be in the Catholic Healthcare system here in Austin. I don't remember a lot about it, other than I took my driver's license out of my bag and held it in my hand in case I passed out while driving. I remember parking in the garage, walking through the doors of the ER, handing the woman at the desk my ID, and nothing after that until I woke up with wires all over me hooked up to machines and tubes in my nose.
They took blood and x-rays and scans and finally told me I had pancreatitis. I knew it was something I was at risk for as a diabetic, but I didn't know how serious it was. Acute kidney failure. Respiratory distress syndrome. Heart failure. Before I even saw a doctor, the financial rep from the hospital came in and got my billing info. I was still in so much pain I was tearful, and even more so when I had to tell the money guy that I didn't have insurance. He told me not to worry because they "discount" bills for uninsured patients.
I had been in the hospital for less than four hours when they gave me some medication and told me I needed to stay overnight for observation. No. There was no way I could rack up an ER bill for an overnight stay and still keep my head above water financially. I wasn't keeping my head above water very well as it was. So after another hour of negotiating, they let me sign paperwork saying I wouldn't sue the hospital if I died and sent me home with medication and a three-page bill. For $4,500. I drove myself home and cried the whole way. I slept that night with the deadbolt unlocked and my phone in my hand in case I needed to call 911, but let me say at this point I had been sick and miserable for so long, I felt pretty ambivalent about whether or not I woke up in the morning. Just being honest.
So as a person without health insurance, the hospital also gave me information for one of its clinic affiliates so I could follow up and get medication and lab work for a co-pay based on my salary. I went to that clinic for almost two years, up until just a few months ago when I could use my new health insurance from my job (I had to pay into it for a year before using it because at the time they could still deny anything related to a pre-existing condition, in my case, diabetes). I was grateful to have any healthcare at all, but the healthcare you get at a "free" health clinic is vastly different from what you get when you have health insurance.
It wasn't waiting for hours for appointments, having my blood drawn by nursing students, or never seeing an actual doctor (I saw nurses and physicians assistants the entire time). I was accustomed to following doctor's instructions. When they prescribed a new medication, I took it. I had no other options.
Which leads me to now. Just a few months ago, I was able to make an appointment with a doctor in my preferred care plan with my health insurance. I found out a few things. One: I took two medications prescribed by the health clinic for over a year that are known to cause liver damage when taken together. Two: At one point earlier this year, I took a new medication for a couple of months (the clinic gave me a bag of samples) that my new doctor told me had been recalled in 2011.
I am lucky. I am OK. I have liver damage, but it isn't permanent because the liver is great at repairing itself. I have to give myself shots in my stomach for a month or two or three, depending on how long it takes, but I can afford the medication I have to inject myself with because I have health insurance. If I didn't? $470 a month for the medication, plus needles, sharps containers, etc.
Again, I was grateful to have access to ANY healthcare when I was uninsured. I finally finished paying off my ER bill early this year. And I survived. What makes me angry - furious, actually - is the way many people dismiss Obamacare by saying uninsured people can go to an emergency room or free clinic. The clinic I went to wasn't out to murder me, they have such a large patient load that they literally cannot keep up with things like recalled medication or which medications interact negatively with others. The PA I saw probably met with upwards of 50 patients a day. They're doing the best they can under the weight of a huge increase in uninsured patients (job losses = people who cannot afford COBRA, lengthy unemployment = COBRA runs out after 18 months). I am by no means a worst case scenario. I almost died. I was so sick I wanted to die. But other people without insurance really do die every single day because they don't have access to adequate healthcare.
The Affordable Care Act fixes these things at the root of the problem: Insurance and pharmaceutical companies. If it had gone into effect a year before it did, I would have been able to get my own insurance without being denied for having diabetes. I wouldn't have been charged more than a man my age for the same insurance. The medication I need to take would have been affordable. Every damn time I hear a politician dismiss Obamacare by talking about the "uninsured masses" that should just go to an emergency room when they get sick, I think about the people I saw in the waiting room every time I had an appointment at the free health clinic. Sick elderly people, pregnant women, children...I want every politician who opposes Obamacare to give up their own health insurance for one year and try to get healthcare. I want to see them with their sick kids, tearfully waiting for hours to see a nurse who may or may not help. I want to see them give up their fucking Ambien and Viagra and try to get help from an ER when they cannot sleep because they voted NO on a "let's help the poor people please" bill.
I haven't told a lot of people what happened to me when I was uninsured and what I am dealing with now as a result, so I think sometimes people get confused as to why I so adamantly support President Obama and his healthcare plan. To the Republican politicians who dispute the fact that uninsured people often DIE WHILE THEY ARE TRYING TO GET CARE, I say fuck you. Fuck you and your white collar golden fucking parachute health insurance. Fuck you and your salary. Fuck you and your summer home. Fuck you, your private plane, your wife's facelifts, your show horses, and your complete inability to relate to what the American public is going through every single day.
There are a lot of reasons why I voted for President Obama in 2008 and during early voting last week. The fact that he has a workable plan and genuinely cares about what the average person in the U.S. faces on a regular basis is just one. It will probably take more than four more years to fix the mess the Bush administration created, but I know he'll do his level best. For me, and so many, many others like me, it can mean the difference between life and death.
End rant. Thanks for listening. This is just my story and I'm glad I'm still here to tell it.