We had that same insurance when I was diagnosed with cancer. Back then I was working at a different Cal State school and thank God I was. Without insurance, we would have lost our house, decimated the college funds, spent every bit of savings we had, and, six years later, I’m sure we’d still be paying off those bills. Or we would have gone bankrupt. Some 700,000 Americans every year declare bankruptcy because of medical bills. The number in Japan? Zero. The number in Germany? Zero.
I was lucky my cancer diagnosis came when it did. I had a job and I kept it until a year after treatment, when, due to budget cuts to the CSU system, I was laid off. We went on COBRA, because no other insurance would have me — the cancer survivor — until this latest job came along. COBRA is even more expensive now.
“Do something else,” the demons whisper. I have pored over Craigslist looking for different kinds of work. I recently applied to be an animal-control officer — no lie — but withdrew my application when I read the blog, “A day in the life of an animal control officer.” Too sad, too confrontational, too many pit bulls for me. And really, I love teaching. It’s what I have done for 20 years.
“Go back to school,” other demons — and my husband — sometimes say, but it’s expensive, we’re already paying my daughter’s college tuition, and I’m in my 50s. Who’s going to hire me as a full-time teacher for a permanent position when I’d be eligible to retire in less than 10 years? And if some school does hire me two years from now, will I work long enough to pay back my college loans?
I could hobble along, teaching where I can, doing some independent work, and my income would pay my daughter’s tuition or at least her living expenses, if it wasn’t for our health insurance. The Affordable Care Act mandates I have it, and I know my family needs it, but paying for it means other things will suffer. We’re not poor, I don’t want to suggest that we are, but we will have to make some hard choices if I’m not working and we’re paying $1,300 a month to an insurance company.
I had hoped that, under the new healthcare system, essential services for everybody would be covered by the government, as they are in every other First World country. At the very least I wanted the Affordable Care Act to be what it says it is: affordable care for everybody.
That said, I’m glad that an insurance provider can no longer deny me for having had cancer and that our unemployed son can stay on our insurance until he’s 26. By then, I tell myself, surely he will have a full-time job.
“But will his job have benefits?” Those are my 3 a.m. demons hissing at me again. And I have no answer for them.
Diana Wagman’s most recent novel is “The Care and Feeding of Exotic Pets.”