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Amid all the politics, the grandstanding, the bitter diatribes and the tantrums, the Affordable Care Act made its way into the world. Unfortunately, its parents were too busy unsuccessfully fighting to prevent a government shutdown to give the bill its due attention. After one last weary push, President Obama’s pride and joy squeezed its way into the scene and became official. There were no flowers, balloons or cards. It just kind of happened.
For people like me who, for months, had been anxiously anticipating the first of October, it felt like a bit of a let down. The government shutdown and Ted Cruz and his cronies’ fight to keep Obamacare from seeing the light of day took center stage, and what should have dominated the headlines as the event of the decade became a sort of afterthought. On a menu, it would have been the last item on the back page where all the unexciting stuff is. An aftertaste—and a sour one at that.
According to an NBC News story, rising medical bills are expected to push 1.7 million American households into bankruptcy this year.  Cruz, and those like him, have never faced the heartbreaking reality of bankruptcy, their house being foreclosed on or their savings wiped out just because they had the misfortune to get sick. What’s worse is that people like him could sabotage millions of other people’s chances of having healthcare—something that is an expectation in every other developed country in the world.
So, on Oct. 1, when I Googled “insurance exchange” with House Speaker Boehner and his buddies stomping and posturing in the background, I wondered if it would all turn out to be a pipe dream. Would I and the 48 million other uninsured people in this country check all the right boxes, only to find out there had been a sick joke played on us?
When Portland State made it a requirement to have insurance, I received my Aetna card in the mail and suddenly realized I could go to the doctor. The last time that happened was in 2006, when I worked for a huge corporation that could easily afford to provide me with benefits. I thought it was normal to have insurance. Fast-forward a few years, and I’d forged my way into the self-employment world, realizing all too quickly what a gift I’d had back then—what a luxury.
Aetna was a relief, but there was still that looming question—what would happen when I graduated? Yes, I had youth and a great immune system on my side, but then someone asked me, “What if you’re in an accident?” Then, all the other questions started occurring to me. What if I slip and fall? What if I get cancer or some other non-discriminatory disease? What if? What if? What if?
Last year, my husband, also uninsured, started experiencing horrible abdominal pain. We didn’t know what to do. So, we stayed in “wait and see” mode. How bad should we let it get before going to the ER? We waited about a week and then one night, when I woke up to him gasping for breath from the pain, I knew we’d waited too long. We took him to an urgent care clinic. All I could think was, why did we wait?  How could I have put money before his well-being?
The answer was very simple. It’s the same answer that too many people in this country come to each day. We gamble with our lives because we’re afraid of how much a single test will cost. They’re not unfounded fears. Just to be seen by the doctor that night, we were charged $150, and all he could tell us was that my husband had undiagnosed abdominal pain. Thanks. He offered to do a few tests but wasn’t sure they’d be conclusive. In our vocabulary, tests translated to hundreds of dollars.
For 48 million people in this country, this story is familiar. You know you need to go to the doctor, but the reality of a bill in your mail box with a few zeros on it makes you think twice. We should never have to think twice. Never.
When I first heard the word Obamacare in 2008, I laughed because it sounded impossible. Nice, but impossible. Affordable healthcare in America? Yeah, right. Then, when it was signed into law, I could have cried. I wouldn’t have to think twice anymore.
I get that it’s not perfect and that there are probably several wrinkles to iron out, but in a country of almost 314 million people, why would we assume anything like this would be straightforward? All I know is that I’ll take peace of mind over perfection.
I got that on Oct. 1 when I went to Cover Oregon’s website. In a few simple steps, on the world’s friendliest government forum, I saw a clear and simple list of plans that matched my income, and what excited me was that they were doable. The deductibles weren’t sky-high and the maximum out-of-pocket expenses were realistic, not bank-breaking. I breathed a sigh of relief. We could do this.
The one snag I encountered was when I entered my income. A red error message popped up saying “enter a valid income.” My cheeks flushed, even though no one else was around. Were they saying my income was so low it didn’t make it into the valid column? Then,I discovered you’re not supposed to put a comma in the number. After that, it worked. Phew, crisis averted.
Plans won’t go into effect until January, and you can’t actually see any of the plan details right now without making an appointment with an actual human being. I know, how inconvenient, right? Regardless, I look forward to 2014, and I think of the night we will all shout “Happy New Year!” For the first time in a really long time, it feels like there’s hope for a heck of a lot more people in this country. Happy New Year it will be, indeed.