Uninsured and afraid

by Sharisse Tracey | April 10, 2019 8:15 pm

Credit: mkurtbas

Other than the time when I was a young bride expecting my first child, I’ve had health insurance. Back then, my job as a receptionist didn’t offer coverage nor did my husband’s position as a waiter. Thanks to California’s Medi-Cal program, I was able to qualify for prenatal health care and the Women, Infants, and Children Program (WIC) to ensure that my baby boy and I received proper nutrition. I worked hard to keep coverage once I got it, never once thinking I would be without it again.

But here I am today, the mother of four, once more uninsured and afraid.

I remember during my pregnancy those weeks of stress and worry feeling like an eternity. No woman expecting her first child should ever feel that way. It was such a scary time, one that I never wanted to repeat. To avoid the dilemma, I worked subsequent full-time jobs with adequate health insurance, affordable co-payments and access to decent doctors’ care while attending school full-time.

My juggling paid off, and I was able to keep consistent health care coverage for quite some time. I was fortunate. At the time I didn’t realize that consistently good health care coverage can be a hit or miss for a lot of Americans, especially if they change jobs.

My good luck with health care continued through the end of my first marriage and into my second. When my husband received military orders to relocate from Southern California to an area in the South known as the Bible Belt, one of my first thoughts was who will be my doctor?

Thankfully, I found good physicians to manage my family’s care. Regardless of where we were stationed or vacationing, I knew we had health insurance.  I felt lucky, invincible even during that decade, and very thankfully none of us were ever sick enough to require a hospital stay or trip to the emergency room, except for childbirth.

That luck with my good health deteriorated at about the same time as my second marriage. What began as a slow physical decline, became a serious, life-altering and incurable autoimmune disease.  

At the time of my diagnosis, I was exhausted and overwhelmed after enduring years of pain and fatigue with no known cause. I went through a series of tests for a few years before receiving an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. My only hint of Rheumatoid Arthritis with Sjogren’s Syndrome was the debilitating migraine headaches I had endured since the age of 12. I was surprised to learn that more than 50 million Americans or 20 % of the population suffers from an autoimmune disease.

My health crisis distracted me from giving too much thought to the fact that as my marriage was ending, my health care coverage would soon follow. Maybe I should have tried to focus more. My days at the time consisted of daily doses of a steroid and pain medication along with hours of physical therapy. To compound my family’s difficulties, my youngest son is autistic and received care.

Luckily, the physical demands on my body didn’t include much more than managing pain and therapy. I was grateful for that. If I received my diagnoses while I was struggling mentally with the physical challenges facing parents of autistic children, I might have just thrown in the towel in defeat.

As I trudged forward, parenting my autistic son and participating in the initial months of my aquatic physical therapy, my marriage came to an end. Too many years of emotional abuse led me to finally get a divorce.  

The realities of single life hit hard. I was making big moves toward self-sufficiency and paid very little attention to the fact that my body was breaking down. By the time I realized what was happening, I was having an excruciatingly painful full-blown RA flare up and could barely walk.

But I was to be without healthcare because my husband’s work provided my insurance. It is not that I didn’t realize I would lose coverage once my divorce was final; my focus was on other things. My lawyer, my primary care doctor, and rheumatologist agreed that it was a horrible time for me to be without health care. I marched on because my marriage was over. Postponing the divorce was not an option.

My mind is clear about ending my marriage. I juggle my finances to provide for my family and do the best I can to manage my health care needs. We all know how hard it is for people with pre-existing conditions to afford health coverage and pay medical expenses. Imagine how difficult it is for me to stay healthy with a chronic illness and no coverage.

I am grateful that Obamacare is still an option for me, even with the Trump administration continuing to try to outlaw it. I need a permanent job with sustainable health care coverage. Until then, I will keep juggling to make ends meet.  

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