One of the things you worry about when you have neither money nor health insurance is what will happen to you in the event you become seriously ill. How are you going to pay for treatment? If you have an acute condition such as appendicitis, you can go to the ER and they have to take care of you. But what if it’s something like cancer or kidney disease? Something that requires prolonged, expensive treatment? All the hospital needs to do is stabilize you. Then you’re on your own.
Accessing medical care isn’t the only concern, though. How are you going to survive while you’re too sick to work? This is especially terrifying for the ever-increasing number of people keeping their heads above the water with freelance and contract work. If we can’t work, we don’t eat.
If you’re among the working poor who don’t qualify for Medicaid and you become seriously ill, you’re pretty much screwed. There is not much you can do. Which is why you tend to push these thoughts out of your head as fast as you can. Not much point in worrying about something you can’t change. Especially when just making enough money to scrape by consumes all your time and energy.
So, when I started experiencing some disturbing symptoms a couple of years ago, I did what most people without access to health care do: Hope it’s nothing serious. After all, it wasn’t like I was sick all the time. The symptoms came and went. And anyway, I had more immediate concerns. Like trying to keep a roof over our heads.
Unfortunately, the symptoms gradually got worse. About four weeks ago, they got so bad I would have gone to the emergency room if I thought there was any point. I was so sick and in so much pain we actually thought I might die.
The symptoms point primarily in one direction and it’s not good. Of course we can’t be sure without an official diagnosis, but I remember what happened when a friend went to the local ER with heart problems. After determining that he wasn’t having a heart attack right then and there, they told him that they’d have to run a bunch of tests to figure out why he kept having these debilitating heart pains, but they weren’t going to do that unless he had insurance or could pay upfront. So much for getting a professional diagnosis. And really, not much point in knowing exactly what’s wrong with you if you can’t get treatment.
So, when I came across this piece by former Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm, I could certainly relate. Granholm tells the story of Carmelita, a woman who works two low-paying jobs, neither of which includes medical benefits. She barely gets by on the little money she makes and certainly can’t afford to buy an individual health insurance policy. Last year, Carmelita was forced to visit the emergency room with a case of walking pneumonia, and now she’s stuck paying off a $3,000 bill. It’s by no means an unusual story.
And then I read the first twenty comments. Oh my. Several comments, starting with the first one, accuse Granholm of making up the story because “Carmelita is already eligible for Medicaid and the ACA DOES NOTHING FOR HER.” Bullshit! In California and everywhere else I’ve ever lived, non-disabled low income adults are not eligible for Medicaid unless they have dependent children living with them. That’s because society doesn’t blame poor children for their plight (well, with obvious exceptions on the political, or should I say sociopathic, right), but does blame poor adults. Poor parents are covered not because they have inherent value as human beings who don’t deserve to suffer needlessly, especially in a country as wealthy as this one, but because a sick (or dead) parent would have negative repercussions for the innocent child who, after all, didn’t ask to be born to a poor person. That’s why low income parents get health care and low income non-parents don’t.
And yes, for all its considerable flaws, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) does change that by extending Medicaid to ALL individuals with incomes at or below 133% of the Federal Poverty Level. Unfortunately those changes don’t go into effect until 2014, and with the constant gutting of Medicaid funding, who knows what Medicaid coverage will be worth in 2014? It already leaves a lot to be desired (though it sure as hell beats no coverage at all). Of course the 133% cutoff is ridiculously low, especially for people in areas with a high cost of living. As a result, many working poor people in California will not qualify for Medicaid. They will somehow have to find the money to buy subsidized junk policies they may not be able to use due to unaffordable deductibles and co-pays. That’s why I’m not a fan of the ACA, although the Medicaid expansion would certainly be helpful in our case.
Anyway, back to the comments. An “independent” calling himself Dr_Al wants to know more about how Carmelita spends her grand income:
“So if you’re going to point to this woman as some sort of example then why not tell the full story? Tell us all about what she pays for, clearly she has a job if she’s cutting your hair. Does she have a cell phone, an apartment with cable TV? Does she own a car? Does she eat out? Seams to me she has decided that it’s too expensive and she’s unwilling to give up other things she wants more. Because of that she now has to pay the price of an emergency room visit.”
Don’t you just love it? Aside from the reading comprehension fail (Granholm told us that Carmelita now has two jobs—she cuts hair at a beauty salon and she works at a sports store—but last year, when she got sick, she had only the retail job and made a total of 11k), the assumptions this commenter makes are fascinating. First of, no, many low income workers don’t have the things this idiot thinks everyone enjoys. We never eat out. We don’t have cable. We don’t even have a TV. Or furniture, for that matter. Our computers are hand-me-downs from friends. You get the picture.
But even if someone has cable TV or eats out occasionally, so what? Does this moron have any idea how much an individual health insurance policy costs, especially one with a deductible low enough so you can afford to actually, you know, access health care? Nope, I’m afraid eliminating that $40 cable bill and $20 restaurant tab won’t be quite enough to cover your monthly premium. Not to mention the deductibles and co-pays. As for transportation and phone-related expenditures, those tend to be necessary to get and keep a job. But let’s face it, people like this commenter are so invested in their delusion that the uninsured CHOOSE to go without health insurance that spending your meager income on anything other than insurance premiums will be interpreted as “freedom of choice.” Hey, Carmelita could afford health insurance if it wasn’t for those “other things she wants more.” Like, you know, a roof over her head and food on her table.
Next up, we have “dlegr250” who does a great job explaining why most Republicans vote the way they do:
“So who will be paying for said lady’s insurance since she can’t afford it? The answer is “I” will. “I” being the Americans who work just as hard if not much harder than this hair cutter. The Americans who sacrificed to pay for the educations and provide for their children. The Americans who took risk and lived within their means. So the solution to the healthcare system? Take my money, give it to her so she can afford healthcare. Well I really don’t care for that, to be honest. I’m tired of my money being stolen and given to someone else who didn’t earn it.”
Ah, yes. The evil government is “stealing” money from hardworking producers and giving it to those lazy people who didn’t earn it. Never mind that “this hair cutter” works two jobs and is on her feet all day long. Clearly she isn’t really working hard. How do we know this? Simple. She isn’t rich and successful! People like this commenter like to delude themselves that we live in a just world. If you’re doing well, it’s because you deserve it. You were smart, took calculated risks, worked hard, lived within your means, and sacrificed when necessary. Unlike “those people.” You know the ones. Lazy, undisciplined, unable to postpone gratification.
If you’re not doing well financially, you have only yourself to blame. Because, you see, in our “land of opportunity” you get what you deserve. People like this commenter cling to that fairy tale with such tenacity they are unable to see the reality that’s all around them. They don’t see the millions of workers barely making ends meet no matter how hard they work. They don’t see the systemic injustices, the widespread economic exploitation, and the humongous holes in the so-called safety net. Because, to see that would mean they’d have to admit that while they may well have worked very hard and lived within their means, the exact same thing is true for many low income people. Being wealthier doesn’t make you a better person. Just a luckier one. Oh, and please, if you’re comfortably middle class, don’t be lecturing a poor person about sacrifice. You sound like a fool.
Speaking of fools, the commenter doesn’t want to live in a “society that allows people to die because they can’t afford a procedure,” but he sure as hell doesn’t want his taxes paying for other people’s health care (funny how people like that don’t seem to care nearly as much about the far greater sums of money spent on corporate welfare, not to mention the endless wars fought for purposes of corporate enrichment). And he’s got the solution we’ve been waiting for!
The solution is not forcibly taking from one and giving to another. The solution is people using their own two hands and feet and earning their way so they can afford healthcare. If the hair cutter can’t afford insurance, get a better job. Take some night classes and advance. You do not have the right to live doing whatever you want and then expect me to pick up your bills.
Get a better job! Why didn’t I think of that!? Let’s ignore for a moment the extreme difficulty of finding the time, money, and energy to go to night school when you’re forced to work two jobs just to make ends meet. Let’s also ignore the fact that we’ve already got millions of people working jobs far below their education level because those are the only jobs available (nor is this likely to change any time soon; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 4 of the 30 occupations with the largest projected employment growth over the next decade require a bachelor’s degree or higher, while 23 require a high school diploma or less).
But okay, let’s assume for the sake of argument that Carmelita is able and willing to take on considerable debt to go to night school and that she can somehow find the time to attend classes. Let’s further assume that after graduation, she gets really lucky and lands a job that pays a living wage and offers medical benefits. Yea, Carmelita! She quits her jobs at the beauty salon and the sports store, leaving her now-former employers to hire someone new to fill those positions–and now those new workers will have no access to health care.
That’s why proposing individual solutions to systemic problems is either foolish or disingenuous. Someone is going to have to work retail, wait tables, clean hotel rooms, cut hair, provide daily living assistance to the elderly and sick, etc., etc. And the people doing those jobs deserve, at a minimum, to earn a living wage and see a doctor when they’re sick. That’s asking for so little in a country so rich. And yet this simple request is not only controversial but provokes outrage and hatred.
Finally, I want to address the commenters who call Granholm a liar or Carmelita an idiot because she went to the emergency room when there are, they claim, countless free clinics and health centers where people can access medical, dental, mental health and substance abuse treatment regardless of ability to pay. It’s always lovely when people who’ve never had to rely on free community resources tell those of us living in poverty about all the amazing freebies available to us.
Allow me to tell you about my recent experience trying to access free medical care. Researching online, I located exactly one clinic within 30 miles of my home that supposedly provides free health care, including referrals to specialists, for low income patients. I was briefly hopeful, but those hopes were quickly dashed when I called the clinic. Turns out they see low income patients only if they’re already on the Medi-Cal rolls. And like I said, no kids, no Medi-Cal.
Okay, so I expanded my search to the 50-80 mile range. I thought I’d figure out how to get to the clinic once I found one willing to treat me. I’ll make this short. In most cases, “free health care for low income patients” simply means “we see Medi-Cal patients.” I found only one clinic that offers free basic health care to low income patients not eligible for Medicaid, but the services they provide are extremely basic. They are not equipped for the tests and procedures I might need. A few other clinics claimed to provide “low cost” care for those in need, but let’s just say that their idea of “low cost” and mine are very far apart.
Now, it’s possible that the free clinic situation is better in urban areas. I honestly don’t know. I was fortunate never to be seriously ill during all the years I lived in major cities. But for people in rural areas (many of whom moved out here to escape the outrageously high housing costs in the cities), there’s nothing.
So I’m going to have to try and deal with this myself. I located a woman who healed herself with a nutrition-based program and started following her recommendations, beginning with a ten-day raw vegetable juice and oil fast/cleanse. That was easy because I was too sick to eat anyway. Even drinking was initially difficult. But after about a week, I started slowly getting better. Am now eating a 100% raw vegan diet and taking a number of herbs and nutraceuticals, and while it’s far too early to tell if this is going to work, we’re at least somewhat hopeful.
The other thing I’m supposed to do is reduce my stress level. That’s the truly hard part. I’m under a truckload of stress; living in constant fear of not having enough money to pay your rent and bills will do that to you. Indeed, I wouldn’t be surprised if the extreme stress I’m under is responsible for making me sick in the first place.
And of course my illness has made our financial situation even worse. Paying for a fresh foods diet and supplements for me and Balou (yes, our boy is still with us and continues to be happy and active) has been very difficult. We missed three weeks of work due to my illness and are nearly broke. There’s one client who owes us some money (check supposedly got lost in the mail), but we’re not sure when it will get here.
So I gotta ask for help. I hate having to do this again, but I don’t know how we’re going to get through this month without help from somewhere. My partner has been looking for a job because there currently isn’t enough freelance work for both of us, but he hasn’t had any luck yet. Given that unemployment around here is far higher than the national average, this could take a while.
If you have a little extra to spare, your donation would be extremely welcome. Also, and I realize this is a long shot, if anyone has a high-speed blender (e.g., Vitamix, BlendTec, Omega, L’Equip RPM, or other 1HP+ blender) they’re no longer using and would be willing to donate, I’d be forever grateful. A high-speed blender is a “must” for many recommended recipes in my nutrition plan, but these things are so expensive, I couldn’t justify the cost in our current situation even if we had the money. However, if someone has one that’s just collecting dust, I’ll gladly take it off your hands.
Other kitchen appliances I could really use but can’t afford include a Champion or GreenStar juicer (or other masticating/non-centrifugal juicer) and a food dehydrator with adjustable thermostat/temperature control (e.g., Excalibur, L’Equip, Good4U). Not really expecting anyone to let go of one of these babies, but thought I’d put it out there, just in case.
Anyway, whatever you can do to help, we’d really appreciate it.