A teacher, a lawyer and a writer walk into a bar and start talking about their health insurance coverage. Not the beginning of a joke, but the happy reality of life in the fall of 2009. A topic that for so long was just not discussed has been propelled into a hot topic for conversation in bars, kitchens and offices around the country. This is a healthy development. It has allowed me to see how passionately disappointed by or happy with their coverage most employed people are. It has also brought into the glare of daylight the maddening inefficiencies of health care coverage today. Some people are responsible for huge copays or aren't covered for some truly basic illnesses while others are merely confused by the complexity of their coverage.
After nearly 18 months of managing to hang on to health coverage through Cobra, I am returning to the workforce this week. I was reminded of my good fortune last week when the operations manager at my new employer handed me a silver platter heaped with benefits. Okay, maybe it was just a folder, but it felt like a silver platter. Fully paid health insurance, life insurance, disability, parental leave...it was a dizzying largesse.
But during my 18 months of consulting, I was also very lucky to have the money to pay for my own health insurance -- and that of my daughter -- through Cobra. It was very expensive. A friend of mine was denied individual health coverage after losing her job because the insurer went back in her history five years and found a time when she was on anti-depressants. They didn't offer her coverage with a higher premium. They just said, "No." A couple I know have managed to go an entire year without visiting a doctor even though they are self-employed and have individual insurance plans. They were fearful that a physican might find something that would count as a "pre-existing condition" and thus deny them coverage when they start new jobs next month.
What is wrong with us as a nation that our health care is cobbled together so precariously and whimsically? And what about those who have lost jobs and couldn't afford Cobra or any kind of coverage? It is a healthy trend that Americans are openly discussing health care, but we should not allow the discussion to be diverted by talk of "Granny killing" or abortion coverage. Nor should we settle for compromises that work for those with money and leave those without lagging farther and farther behind. The past year has shown that anyone can lose a job, anyone can be struck by sudden illness, anyone can begin to lose all those things that make us feel grounded.
It is no coincidence that the lines to receive the swine flu vaccine are long and include Americans of all income levels, races and political persuasions. Potentially fatal illnesses don't discriminate. Neither should our nation's health coverage. Let's keep talking about it and insist that Congress' final health care plan not leave behind any of our neighbors, friends or family.