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Susanne Mentzer Headshot

Obama Care and Me

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I am one of the fortunate in our country -- not of the one percent -- but with my career as a an opera singer/teacher that has continued for nearly 32 years and, God willing, will continue a few more. I am also a mother, I do what I love and am self-employed.

My entire adult life has not always been one funded solely by self-employment. I worked in academia for 12 years and as a result was the grateful recipient of some of the benefits: contributions to retirement and assistance with health insurance premiums. Before that I paid my own health insurance premiums, put away money into IRAs and paid my taxes quarterly. I recall the pre-academia (pre-2000) years as a single, self-employed person paying high rates for health insurance. As a matter of fact it was not until the late 1990s that the singers' "union," American Guild of Musical Artists, even addressed the issue of health insurance options. Another major costs include disability insurance which runs about $3500 a year.

Due to some personal tragedies over the past couple years, I chose to cut back on work and take better care of myself, get healthier by reducing over all stress levels while just making enough to get by. I felt that my savings were enough of a cushion. I left academia in mid-2012.

I do not smoke. I do not use illegal substances. I do not drink alcohol (non-conducive to singing). Advised that I could find a better health care deal than my employer's COBRA, I applied as a single payer. Surprisingly I was denied health coverage by the very same insurance company I had been with for seven years because of a rather common pre-existing condition and because I would no longer be part of the "pool" although I was the same person. There was no choice but to use COBRA to the tune of nearly $1300 per month with a high deductible.

I am one of the folks for whom the Affordable Health Care Act aka Obama Care is going to be a big relief. If the law had not been passed I would join the ranks of the uninsured on Dec. 31 when, coincidentally, my COBRA runs out.

In spite of occasional personal setbacks, I have kept going my entire adult life, raising my son, paying my taxes and working very hard to pay for my part of kid's education, to keep my overall debt to a minimum and pay my bills on time. As a result I have a nice high credit score. Advertising would have one believe this is the true route to happiness.

When I applied for my first mortgage almost 26 years ago, it was with my then fully employed husband, yet because I was self-employed and not earning a predictable monthly income (even though I was earning a nice sum of money one month and nothing another month) this did not compute to the bankers. I had to show proof of income for the coming two or three years. Who of us knows that? We qualified but just by the skin of our teeth.

As the years went on and regulations changed a bit, I was able to purchase and sell (by owner!) quite a few homes. I am now nearly 57 and feel rather proud that the penny-pinching post-depression ethics of my parents flowed over into my veins. I rarely pay full price on anything. Ask anyone who knows me. When I show up in a stellar concert gown I am eager to divulge the price and the great shop I found it in rather than say it was purchased from haute couture. I failed diva school. What can I say? I am the Minnie Pearl of the opera world.

I make sure I make charitable donations and want to pitch in to help any way I can. It sounds like proverbial horn-tooting, but I am only attempting to explain that I have always played by the rules and pull my weight in our society.

When President George W. Bush said on October 15, 2002, "We can put light where there's darkness, and hope where there's despondency in this country. And part of it is working together as a nation to encourage folks to own their own home, " our system went haywire and, well, the rest is history. I am now experiencing this tuneless postlude firsthand.

After a recent relocation to California, I applied for a mortgage again and to my chagrin I was denied by two different banks; this, after at least 25 years of borrowing without default. My lender actually told me that, once again, if I had a monthly income, no matter how small, I would most likely have qualified. The current regulations are stacked against the self-employed person. My assets, (as encouraged by my own government in order to save-save-save for later, are mostly untouchable until I am of retirement age), lack of debt, and high credit rating make no difference. The irony is that statistically, I do not even fall in the category of the type of person who defaults. The banker's hands are tied. Moreover, as a late-boomer can I really rely on any Social Security? I have never felt like such a failure.

Why am I writing all this? Everyone has an Obama Care story and this is mine.

I have applied on the Covered California site, and am grateful that the state in which I now reside has stepped up to the plate to participate. I know my 25-year-old son will have affordable coverage once he is no-longer under my coverage. It is a damn shame that there are website problems at the national site because it overshadows the value of the program. I still believe the program is boon for us as a society.

Now if the mortgage companies could catch up that would be swell. I hope our legislature will soon grasp that the ranks of the self-employed are responsible, valuable members of society and should not be swept under the rug.