THE BLOG

After Seven Years Without Health Insurance, I Am Eagerly Signing Up for Obamacare

10/01/2013 04:25 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

'Til this day, I'm not 100 percent sure what happened. The conclusion that I came to, and the one that most doctors stated, was that I had some sort of bacterial infection, likely transmitted from contaminated food. But who knows for certain. All I remember is being very ill for several months to the point where everyone constantly told me I looked pale and needed rest. I remember going from community health center to community health center trying to get an answer. I recall the frustration of not being able to go to a doctor that knew my history, and that could really dedicate time to diagnosing what was wrong. I remember the agony of not being able to get proper care and being treated as if I was some sort of a burden as I gave my financial records to doctors, hospitals and specialists in an attempt to work out payments. And I remember the embarrassment of finally accepting charity care as a last resort when things reached a tipping point during this time period several years ago. All of this because I, like millions of Americans, don't have health insurance.

My last full-time job was in 2006. And, subsequently, that was the last time I enjoyed health benefits. The past seven years have been a mixed bag of prayers to not get sick, to waiting to see a doctor until it's absolutely and utterly necessary. Forced to freelance out of necessity because of a lack of work, I remember how tough it was especially in the beginning. And even after things picked up later, the cost of health care is so ridiculously and exorbitantly high, that many like myself forego the expense with the hope that nothing terrible happens. Up until this very moment, I still pay for every doctor's visit, every prescription, every medical need out of pocket. In other words, I only go to the doctor when I'm tired of self-diagnosing and cold medicine simply will not suffice. These past seven years have been a combination of uncertainty and gambling with my own health. But I have been one of the lucky ones.

In 2007, a 12-year-old boy in Maryland named Deamonte Driver had a toothache. His mother couldn't afford health insurance, and had been dropped from Medicaid at certain points according to published reports. The tooth was left untreated, and when young Deamonte began suffering from a severe headache, he was rushed to the hospital. His situation worsened and eventually he received two brain surgeries. But it was too late. Deamonte tragically died in February of '07. Apparently an $80 tooth extraction could have saved his life in the beginning.

In 2009, we learned of the story of Nikki White. Diagnosed with lupus at the age of 21, Nikki eventually became too ill to work, lost her job and thereby lost her health insurance. She moved back home with her parents in Tennessee, but was unable to remain on their health plan, and insurance companies denied her coverage because she had a pre-existing condition. Some news outlets reported that she received Medicaid for a while, but because of budget cuts, she was kicked off. Nikki wrote letters of desperation crying for help but it was to no avail. Her illness escalated and in 2005 she was rushed to the emergency room. She received 25 operations at the hospital, spent six months in critical care, and in 2006, at the age of 32, Nikki died.

These heart-breaking stories are unfortunately not unique. A study conducted at the Harvard Medical School and Cambridge Health Alliance (released in 2009) found that nearly 45,000 deaths a year are associated with lack of health insurance. According to its data, uninsured working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than those who are insured. Other studies paint an even more dire situation.

Researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted a study of preventable deaths in 19 industrialized nations and found that the U.S. came in last place. Released in 2008, the 'Measuring the Health of Nations' report focused on deaths before the age of 75 that are potentially preventable with proper and timely health care. And let me repeat, we came in last place.

What transpired in Washington over the last few days is sickening -- pun intended. Right before millions of Americans can finally access these health care exchanges, so-called leaders in the Republican Party (and the two Democrats who voted with them) want to act as if they care about people suffering across the country, when all they're really doing is trying to win political points. Instead of pretending that they want to delay implementation of the Affordable Care Act so people can 'figure it out', they should just call it what it is: an attempt at a one year delay so they can run on Obamacare again in 2014. We'd all have a lot more respect for them if they just owned up to it. Because the GOP and Tea Party were so successful in getting their candidates into office in 2010 and taking control of the House, they think they can do it again in 2014, and gain control of the Senate if they create anti-Obamacare hysteria once again. Sorry, but that just ain't happening this time.

People across the country have already seen the real-life impact of this law, and guess what, they like it. Children up to the age of 26 have been able to stay on their parents' insurance, those with pre-existing conditions cannot be denied coverage, seniors have been able to obtain cheaper prescriptions and many others have benefitted. Now the rest of us have an opportunity to join in. And by the number of visits to healthcare.gov, it looks as if people aren't wasting any time.

It is mind boggling that in the most powerful country on the planet, we let millions go uninsured and underinsured. Perhaps that is what so many are fearful of, that if we have a healthier population, we may in fact have a more productive population that starts paying attention and sees political posturing for what it is -- a game. Well, game over. On October 1st, the law went into effect, and I for one will be sure to sign up. I've literally had a countdown to this day, as I'm sure so many others have too. We, the millions of Americans who are uninsured and underinsured, are not lazy. We're hard-working Americans who despite our efforts and good intentions cannot afford premiums designed for businesses and corporations. We, the single-payer, needed a single-payer/public option. But since certain lawmakers made that impossible, we'd like to partake in the new health care act that is at least beginning a process of reform.

In the meantime, perhaps all Congressional leaders and others chanting loudly to postpone signup for the Affordable Care Act should lose their health coverage for a year and we'll see what their thoughts are then in 2014.