The price we pay

The irony was indeed cruel.  My article on Obamacare and job lock had just been published in Pacific Standard.  In it, I examined some of the economic research showing that, under the current system of health care, many Americans work in their jobs only for the health insurance.  I shared some of my own experience making the leap from full time job to freelance consultant years ago, at the same time my husband was founding his new nonprofit, SkyTruth.   In my article, I concluded that our risky decision was worth it, despite how frighteningly exposed the individual health insurance market leaves entrepreneurs like us:  insurance companies can deny coverage, omit pre-existing conditions, and charge whatever they want.

But the day my article was published, I received a new notice from our insurer saying that our rates would go up – again – in a few weeks.  The figure floored me.  Our health insurance now officially dwarfed our mortgage.   “That’s it,” I thought.  “This is just insulting.  We have to find another plan.”   I noted the date of the premium increase – September 1, one month before the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges kick in.   We had felt locked into our existing plan because of the difficulty we had getting it in the first place (despite being relatively young and very healthy at the time) and assumed that health issues I’d experienced since then would make it even more difficult to get coverage now.   The exchanges offered hope:  perhaps there would actually be a market for health insurance where we could actually choose and not be rejected simply because we actually use the insurance.

And yet, who knows what the exchanges will bring, and, perhaps more importantly, how long they will last.  Even as I savored my publication in Pacific Standard, I read yet another story by the Washington Post’s fabulous Dana Milbank about Republican efforts to undo Obamacare.  Not just the farce of voting to repeal it – laughable when described previously by Milbank.   But the power House Republicans have to starve it to death.   A poorly run program will make squeamish and confused Americans even more skeptical, and strengthen political opponents.

The more I thought about it, the more I sunk into a fatalistic gloom and doom.   We’ll die sick paupers as homeless people, I thought.  Bankrupted by diseases we can’t control and uninsurable as independent workers.  Then, Neely Tucker’s article in the Washington Post Magazine came out.  In it, he profiles how SkyTruth has revolutionized environmental advocacy through the use of satellite imagery and other technology.  Suddenly it was all worth it again:  the uncertainty, the risk, the loss of security that comes with working for a large company or government agency.  It’s the price you pay for accomplishing something significant.

Now, if only we can lock in affordable health care…

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