Thursday, August 06, 2009

Impact of the healthcare system on my life

Since we're in the middle of a healthcare reform debate, I thought I'd share a little of how our current healthcare system has impacted my life, and why I'd like to see it fixed. It's not something I think about every day, but it has definitely shaped my life.

I had my first migraine when I was eleven. It wasn't a big surprise, since my mom always had them. At the time, treatment for migraines was basically done with narcotics and other brute force techniques, but the chemistry has been advancing steadily, as has our understanding of migraines and the brain. That's meant a lot of doctor appointments over the years, catching up with the latest meds and such.

Not a problem, as long as we had insurance, which we almost always did. I vaguely remember a stretch when my mom changed jobs, and she was without coverage for a while, at least for the migraines, which were defined as a pre-existing condition, and not covered for the first 3 months of her new policy. Not long after, they changed the law so that pre-existing conditions were covered as long as coverage remained continuous.

That's meant that I have made damn sure to have continuous coverage. When I was in college, my parents covered me. When I graduated, I got private insurance with a high deductible, and I never, ever let it lapse. That first year, I made about $7,000, and at least $1,400 of that must have gone to health insurance. When it came time to pay bills at the end of the month, electricity was optional, and food left plenty of room to economize (beans and rice, homemade bread), but the insurance bill always got paid and always got paid on time.

Once I worked my way up the ladder to the point where I had insurance, it wasn't such a hassle, but it's definitely affected my career choices. For instance, at one point I had been doing some freelance work, and was considering going full time as a freelancer/consultant. The fact that the most effective migraine drugs are $20 a pill without insurance pretty much shut that door for me.

In a world where people have lost their houses, had to choose between food and heart medicine, or declared bankruptcy because of medical issues and insurance problems, this is pretty weak sauce, really. I've just had to be careful. But there have been risks I haven't been able to take because doing so would have meant losing that continuous coverage that has allowed me to live relatively pain free. It's not a big impact, but it's there.

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