One day I realized I couldn’t sit on the floor like other kids in my class. I was 9 years old, but I remember noticing that this was abnormal. At the time, I did not know this marked the onset of rheumatoid arthritis.
Having RA feels like a large tight rubber band is keeping my limbs from fully extending or like a metal beam dealing a sharp blow to my smaller joints. I spend an extra hour some mornings convincing my body that it is capable of getting out of bed, but managing this kind of pain without medication is impossible.
I should qualify for insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s coverage expansion for low-income residents, but the Florida House of Representatives – led by Speaker Steve Crisafulli — has denied more than 300,000 Florida millennials access to an affordable healthcare coverage option.
I stomach the cheapest insurance premiums that amount to nearly one-third of my monthly take-home pay, and do not cover the comprehensive care I need. But coverage is critical: Without insurance, my prescriptions would cost over $4,700 a month.
The coverage gap in Florida is a manufactured crisis that needs to end swiftly. The state has deemed that some of its residents are too poor to qualify for tax credits to help them afford healthcare coverage. Yet Republicans and Democrats in the Florida Senate have already agreed that helping poor Floridians access such coverage is a good idea.
Last month, they came together to pass a market-based solution — called A Healthy Florida Works — that will require every beneficiary to put some skin in the game. But when the bill came over to the House, Speaker Crisafulli said he’s not interested.
Speaker Crisafulli’s decision to force me to purchase healthcare on the Obamacare exchange despite my low income — when the state has spurned better options available in other states — forces me deeper into poverty.
As a student at Florida International University, I’m fortunate to have a job on campus that allows me to balance my work and school obligations. I earn $9 per hour and work about 20 hours each week. For two weeks’ worth of work, my most recent paystub left me with $346 after taxes. This $346 is barely saving my life.
Thankfully, my dad is letting me stay at home while I finish up school, but after making my monthly premium, I pay for auto insurance and repairs, gas for round trips from home to school, school books, cups of Ramen and, seldomly, a snack to keep me going. My paycheck quickly trickles down to $11.49. How am I supposed to make $11.49 last for two weeks, Speaker Crisafulli?
Being broke is degrading. It conflicts with my own idea of my self-worth as a person because I am not someone who should be unable to afford a basic meal. Being broke is frightening. I have no reserve fund in case of emergencies.
But most important, being broke is disheartening.
I take my responsibility to learn the skills necessary to compete in today’s workforce seriously, which is why I traveled to Tallahassee to tell House lawmakers about how the coverage gap is holding me back. But Speaker Crisafulli’s refusal to expand access to health coverage for low-income Floridians has left me unable to buy textbooks and attend study groups with my peers — hampering my education.
I want to finish school, and I am only a few months away, but the strain Speaker Crisafulli has thrown my way is unbearable. If I can make it work financially, I plan to graduate from FIU in August. Making it harder to graduate is no way to grow an economy.
With 1 million Floridians being subjected to poverty or going without health insurance, inaction is not an option. It is time to allow health coverage expansion to be debated on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives. The health and financial security of too many Floridians are on the line.
Isabel Betancourt is a senior journalism major at Florida International University.