Venice Family Clinic – West Los Angeles – Southern California
Some years ago while waiting for a bus, I chatted with a white American woman, somewhere in her fifties, suffering from chronic back pain. I knew that kind of pain. Her four cats were her companions and solace.
“Can’t you get treatment,” I asked her.
She cringed. “It’s expensive.”
“What about health insurance?”
“None since I lost my job.” She shifted her weight.
When the bus arrived, she struggled to her feet and, with her body twisted to one side, hobbled with her walking stick towards the bus.
At the time, I was among 147.6 million people under 65 years of age who got health insurance through their employer (Health, United States, 2011). I knew nothing about America’s healthcare system to help the lady find relief from her pain.
For six months after leaving my job in retail to start my sole-proprietor service provider business, I continued to receive health insurance coverage through my former employer’s group plan. Under the COBRA program, my monthly premium also included my former employer’s share. What a shock to see my first COBRA invoice for over $300 a month!
During that period, I faced the challenge of people over fifty in obtaining individual health insurance coverage. Following the advice of a health insurance agent, I joined an association of self-employed and sole-proprietor business owners that offered, among other services, a group healthcare plan. In spite of my membership, which came with a monthly $150 fee, the health insurance company affiliated with the association rejected my health insurance application for “pre-existing conditions.”
The loss of health insurance coverage kept me awake at nights. I had fallen into a grave with 48.6 million other uninsured individuals (Health, United States, 2011). A neighbor working in healthcare advised me to apply for Medicaid – a health program for low-income individuals and families funded by state and federal governments. I rejected her advice: foolish pride.
Through an online search for affordable medical clinics, I found the Venice Family Clinic that provides free healthcare services, funded and operated by generous donors and volunteers. I rejoiced when I qualified to receive preventive healthcare at the clinic: lessons in humility. The kind and attentive female doctor, assigned to my care, calmed my fears.
In March 2010 when President Obama passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, I had renewed hopes of obtaining healthcare insurance coverage. The end of discrimination against or charging higher rates for pre-existing medical conditions – presently over $500 a month – does not go into effect until January 2014. Health Insurance Exchanges – government-regulated and standardized health care plans at affordable premiums for low-income workers – will only become operational in January 2014.
I have to wait. I cannot afford to get sick or injured. When Death comes, I ask the gods to take me quietly in the night.
Did the lady with the four cats find relief from her chronic back pain, I wonder. Our paths never crossed again.