Imagining A Year With Universal Healthcare
On November 15th, the day that open enrollment starts, I release a long, slow sigh of relief. For the first time in a decade, I don’t need to spend the day choosing between dozens of terrible health insurance options, each one worse (or more expensive) than the next. Instead, I stay away from all screens and spend the day reading a good book.
My new government-issue healthcare card arrives promptly two days before Christmas. It looks like a driver’s license, but there’s no photo. Just my name and an ID number that will stay with me until I die.
The crisp image of a bald eagle superimposed over a caduceus is embossed on the card, the new symbol of America’s universal healthcare system. As I tuck the card into my wallet, the significance of this moment hits me and I smile with disbelief. I take my old health insurance card out of my wallet for the last time, but I’m afraid to cut it up. Instead, I put it in a drawer with the others even though it’s worthless now.
I, along with 400 million other Americans, wake up on January 1st with head-to-toe healthcare coverage, funded and managed entirely by taxpayers like myself. This includes everything, from routine checkups and tests to treatment for complicated diseases and conditions to palliative and end-of-life care. Our new healthcare system also includes mental health, dental, vision, and emergency care.
This year, I will no longer need to pay from $600 to $800 per month for my health insurance premium. Instead, I use this money to pay down debt, buy some much-needed household supplies, and tuck a bit away in a savings account.
I feel the deeply-rooted anxiety that’s had a stranglehold on me since my older daughter was diagnosed with cancer at the age of eleven, begin to loosen its grip.
On the first business day in January, I make an appointment with my optometrist. It’s been nearly three years since I’ve had my eyes checked and, at the age of 50, my eyesight is changing rapidly. When I call to make the appointment, the receptionist doesn’t ask me what insurance I have. She doesn’t tell me that payment is due up front. She simply takes my name and schedules an appointment for the following week.
There are immediate health needs that my husband and I address right away, things we’ve put off too long because of the prohibitive cost — a hernia repair, a dental implant, a dermatologist’s evaluation of a questionable mole, an appointment with a psychiatrist and the subsequent prescription for an antidepressant.
I reach out to my therapist, a woman who helped me manage the stress and heartache of caring for my daughter throughout her entire cancer treatment and, subsequently, after she died. It’s been over a year since my last appointment. I stopped going because my deductible was so high. Each weekly visit had cost me about $100. It’s an understatement to say that it’s good to hear her voice. We find a weekly appointment slot that works for both of us and I feel that tight band of anxiety loosen a little bit more.
After a flurry of medical appointments, follow-ups, and long overdue tests, winter gives way to spring. My husband and I are lucky. We have no serious health problems. The hernia repair goes smoothly. My new glasses arrive and my constant headaches subside.
The issue of healthcare fades into the background of my life, as it should, though I still can’t quite believe that I’m covered. Every once in awhile, I take out my government-issue health card and stare at it, marveling at this new miracle.
Spring melts into summer and, as autumn arrives, I visit my doctor’s office to get a flu shot. They know me there and have my health ID number on file, thus I’m in and out in 15 minutes, protected (hopefully) from the latest strain of the flu.
As autumn ages into November, it’s open enrollment season once again. It has been nearly a year since I’ve had comprehensive, government run, health coverage. The physical signs of having access to healthcare are obvious. I’m feeling better than I have in years. My aches, pains, and concerns have all been addressed, as have my husband’s, and though our health isn’t perfect, we feel taken care of for the first time in years.
The psychological signs of universal healthcare are, perhaps, more subtle. With each subsequent health issue that I’ve addressed throughout the year, my stress and anxiety have diminished. I no longer obsess over how to pay for a visit to my therapist or any specific prescription. I stop calculating the odds of getting through one more year before something major happens in my family — another cancer diagnosis, a heart attack, an accident requiring an expensive air ambulance ride to a trauma center.
I am grateful for this new freedom for myself and my family. I’m also grateful that my friends and fellow Americans are experiencing this same freedom. It is a true blessing that I no longer see GoFundMe campaigns on social media for people desperate to pay for the care they need.
I am grateful that my daughter no longer needs to worry about getting sick. She will have what I didn’t when I was a young woman — free and unfettered access to doctors, therapists, dentists, and medicine no matter where she’s working or living within the United States.
It is once again November 15th, open enrollment day. The entire year has been a dream. Universal healthcare doesn’t exist in America. The Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, has been decimated by Trump and his Republican comrades.
There is no protection for pre-existing conditions, no coverage for vision or dental, and no way for me to easily pay for therapy. I get out of bed slowly and make my way to my computer, navigating to The New York State of Health website to begin the disheartening process of selecting a plan. With the individual mandate gone and most ACA protections removed, premiums are incredibly high for plans that provide a bare minimum of coverage, particularly for people my age.
As I scroll listlessly through my options, I feel a pinch of pain in my chest near my heart and a tightness in my left arm. The cost of an ambulance ride to a hospital that’s just three miles from my house can be as high as $2000. So, I ignore the pain and hope that it will pass, and that maybe, in a year or two, my fading dream of universal healthcare will finally be realized.