What If The Affordable Care Act Was Available 20 Years Ago?

I was one of hundreds shuffled in and out of the county mental health center.
04/23/2017 11:29 am ET Updated Apr 24, 2017
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“Well, I’m sorry. We’re not a charity, so we can’t do that.”

A part of me wanted to scream inside. I had asked someone in the billing department at my psychiatrist’s office about accepting payments to take care of an outstanding bill. That was her irritated response to me on the phone.

No more psychiatric treatment.

Even though I hated these appointments, I desperately needed them to get prescriptions for my recently diagnosed anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I hated the pills too, but they were helping me get back to normal after I had a breakdown in college right before my senior year.

Eventually, I would no longer be covered under my parents’ insurance. If the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was around about 20 years ago, my life would have been a lot better.

Instead, I was one of hundreds shuffled in and out of the county mental health center. The facilities were stark, uninviting and uncomfortable. The administrative staff hardly spoke to you. And if you missed an appointment, boom. You’re kicked out and you have to start the registration and case assignment process all over again.

I’d been living at home rent-free. How could I explain to my parents these drugs were going to cost hundreds of dollars a month?

The privilege of having health insurance weighs on me constantly.

 

I had to research different companies who would cover the drugs I had been taking. One of the meds, which I still take to this day, was stigmatized in 1999 because one of the Columbine High School shooters was prescribed the drug. There were no drug programs for that one.

So I had to change medications. Back then, I didn’t realize the price my brain would pay for doing this. So I was switched to Prozac. Not that Prozac was better for me, but because Prozac and my other two medications I could get free or for a reduced price from the county clinic.

I thought I’d be set until I could find a job with insurance benefits. Then the side effects kicked in. Prozac wasn’t as effective. Without my previous drug, after just a few days, the medication would wear off and not only would my obsessive behaviors and anxiety return, so would the reactions from being off the medication.

The “brain zaps” were the worst. It felt as though when I turned my head, only my skull would turn into that direction. And after a split second, my brain would follow. It’s an extraordinarily uncomfortable, debilitating feeling. (Did I mention how much I hate pills? And how frustrating it is to hear every psychiatric professional I’ve had over the last couple of decades that my “family history” means I’ll be taking them for the rest of my life? But I’ll save that for another day.)

I was between jobs and county clinic visits and I grimaced when I was forced to borrow money from my family to pay for my drugs out of pocket. Drug discount cards were hardly beneficial, particularly because these were drugs related to mental illness. Getting an antibiotic or a cholesterol pill was simple and often free directly from the pharmacy. Not so much for anti-depressants or anti-anxiety meds. They are controlled substances, so the rules for prescribing and dispensing them are very strict.

When I was finally able to get a job with health benefits, that nightmare passed. But I haven’t always had employee-sponsored health insurance since then. While I was self-employed and planning my wedding, there was a lapse in coverage before I could be added onto my husband’s plan.

So the nightmare briefly reappeared, and I had to use Planned Parenthood for birth control (which I needed for more than just contraception) and pelvic exams. I was also starting to get brain zaps because I was stretching out the remaining prescriptions I had left from my previous job.

The privilege of having health insurance weighs on me constantly.

Think about it. We all need a general physician, dentist, and an eye doctor. Not to mention countless other specialists like allergists, psychiatrists or dermatologists, plus the occasional emergency room visit.

Just saying “get a job” isn’t that easy. Getting a job, even in a robust economy, takes time. And often there’s an introductory period where insurance doesn’t kick in at a new job.

And put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s quite difficult to focus on applying and interviewing for jobs when your medication is inconsistent or you’re suffering from an untreated medical problem.

Like most challenges in life, these have made me stronger and more painfully aware of the need for reliable and affordable healthcare.

But I’ll always wonder what it would have been like without that hassle. If I had the ACA back then, I would still be under my parents’ insurance, and that tumultuous time in my life would have never happened.

And this is why even folks like me who are fortunate enough to have insurance are vocal about keeping the ACA. Life without health care is a nightmare.

You can find Williesha Morris on Twitter, Facebook and her blog, “Nerdy Thirtysomething.”

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