Here's Why Having Health Insurance Actually Matters
Over the summer, I acquired health insurance for the second time in my adult life. The great state of California recognizes domestic partnerships; we had to have been living together for at least six months. My boyfriend faxed over our lease to his job’s HR and six weeks later, I had vision, dental and medical insurance. Not a moment too soon either because I started experiencing some health issues and had to go to urgent care. The visit and subsequent visits were an 180 from the poverty insurance I had grown up with.
Like many Americans (before Obamacare), for most of my adult life I had no health insurance. I did for a few years when I was 19, covered through my job, but I was young and my health wasn’t a priority so I didn’t see or have a reason to go to the doctor, even for a checkup. It wasn’t until I moved to California, transferred to another store and inquired about how this would work with my benefits that I was told by my new boss that “California doesn’t do that.”
However, moving from the midwest to southern California did wonders for my health. Back home, I was a perpetually *sick* person: my allergies were next-level due to the high pollen count and the ever-changing weather. All the sneezing and coughing would typically pan out to a cold and that would typically lead to sinus infection. Depending on how bad the infection, it would sometimes send me to the hospital for treatment. I kept all types of severe allergy/cold/sinus medications close to me because once they started up, I had to swiftly squash whatever was flaring up. Out of the entire year, I was probably only well for a couple of months in the summer.
Moving to San Diego was a pleasant discovery that my health could improve in a way I didn't know possible: my eczema disappeared, my allergies and sinuses were non-existent, and my asthma was gone. All my life I had thought I was a unhealthy person but turned out it was just the environment.
Because of the cost of insurance and since I was a much healthier person, I decided it was a luxury I didn’t need. Planned Parenthood covered all of my feminine needs and any if I had any other issues, I consulted the internet or I soldiered through the ailment. When my wisdom tooth started bothering me, I got dental insurance to get it taken out but then that got expensive so I stopped paying. I'm fortunate enough not to have had any major medical problems during that time because I had no way of paying for it as I was completely on my own. Getting sick is expensive and that’s one of the reasons why I avoided the doctor for so long. Even if I had extra money to afford a visit, I’d probably go bankrupt over treatment, any medication prescribed and any follow-up visits that were requested. So I didn’t go.
I moved away from San Diego to Palm Springs to live with my boyfriend and it was there that all my health problems came back: my eczema made a fierce and agonzing appearance, I got sick about a month after moving there, and I had terrible, terrible sleep problems so I was constantly exhausted. Two years in, we got the news about health insurance and domestic partners being qualified.
Our insurance is so insanely good I imagine it’s on par to what Congress has. If I even have a copay, it's no more than $10 and my meds never cost me more than $5 each. I have abundance of doctors to choose from even if they're not in the area. But the biggest culture shock was how differently I was treated because of the insurance that I have.
I grew up in poverty in a single parent home and I hated any doctor's visits because of how looooooong they were. We could only go to certain medical offices, typically for people who struggle economically, so the medical team and staff treat you accordingly.
ER and doctor visits took forever and required my mom to take off half a day of work. The office and waiting area had no ambience, fluorescent lights lined the ceiling and the walls were barren. Also the medical staff never felt comforting, rarely smiled or looked at us and when we talked to them, they usually had preconceived notions about us.
It's so different now. I had to go to urgent care and was absolutely dreading it, so imagine my surprise when I go in and the medical office looked like a day spa. There was no fluorescent lights, just a very nice ambience like we were about to sit down for brunch. The waiting area had complimentary cucumber water for patients, a very relaxing Pandora music station was playing and a giant, flat screen television was on HGTV. I had barely gotten my forms filled out when they called me to the back and the urgent care doctors were super nice. Since I didn’t have a primary physician, they wrote a prescription for meds and told me there was a pharmacy next door located for my convenience.
I had to get a primary physician but I actually got to choose who I wanted. On my insurance’s website, I could search based on what I was looking for (gynecologist, dermatologist, etc.) and then a huge list of doctors would appear with their stats, their location and contact information. The names of the doctors were also linked so I could view a more in-depth profile of them, which included their education background and credentials. I preferred doctor of color, specifically a black doctor, but there was none nearby so I choose a Persian doctor who had done his schooling in Chicago and was roughly my age. At the time, my health was getting worse and I just needed to see someone and he was down the street from where I lived.
After some blood work, he told me I was “almost severely anemic” and told me he was taking my ethnicity into consideration as I might have a certain type of anemia (I did.) He also really listened as I told him everything I had been feeling and asked questions based off what I said to him. I felt like I was being heard for the first time with a doctor. He went over every single result of my blood work, explained what it meant and stressed not to hold back any questions I had. I didn’t plan on making him my primary but I did just because of how he and his medical staff made me feel so welcome and we comforting.
Finding out I was anemic (and have a vitamin D deficiency) was a fucking trip. He asked how long I had felt tired and lethargic and I told him for so long I that I just rationalized it as not getting enough sleep. It never crossed my mind that it could be signs of a bigger problem and I suppose that comes from growing up how I did and not being able to afford health insurance. It made me wonder how many other people are in my situation who might have issues that could easily be fixed if they had access to affordable and good health care. It’s fucking healthcare, which should be a right and not a privilege.
My insurance also covers therapy which I'm taking full advantage of as well as other small things I would have never thought to get done (for example, I sporadically get my ears professionally cleaned because it's on the menu and fully covered.)
Every single time I'm in a medical office, I am never not told about what great health insurance I have. It always makes me think about others who do not have what I have. I'm fortunate because of whom I'm dating. Being poor shouldn't mean that you're not worthy of such things. Doctors that care about you and want to help you get better, leading to a better quality of life is should not a luxury.