I am grateful today for discovering a new clinic.
Its focus is on preventative care, and its staff is the most friendly, upbeat I have ever encountered in a doctor’s office, in any country. (I’ve lived in countries with little health care, for-profit care, private-public care, and universal health care.)
This Portland, Oregon clinic is Zoomcare. Its mission: “health care on demand.”
Its approach to helping people stay healthy gives me hope.
I’m grateful for being treated with kindness, good humor, and compassion there.
Frankly, I was expecting humiliation again.
I recently went for a flu shot at a local pharmacy and felt humiliated when the clerk repeated in a loud voice, several times, in front of a line-up of people: “So, you don’t have health insurance …” Surrounded by elders, I felt as if I had committed a crime.
So, full disclosure: For the first time in my life, I am living without health insurance.
Not by choice.
I discovered, the hard way, that being disabled in the United States means you have no right to health insurance.
As long as I had full-time employment, I paid for health insurance. When I lost my job in the recession, I paid for COBRA for almost a year, at the highest rate.
I applied for health insurance at several of America’s largest firms — places that had accepted my money when I was employed — and was rejected by each.
I was stunned to learn that even if you offer to pay a good sum, you can be rejected in the United States for health care coverage.
I explained to one bureaucrat after another — most were nurses and trained counselors — that I am healthy and have not had surgery or any major care in the United States. I usually only have one check-up a year and a mammogram. I don’t cost the system much.
It wasn’t about money. I offered to pay any amount to get health insurance, because I’ve always taken care of myself. (Our savings account was still healthy then.)
It didn’t matter. My war injuries left me permanently disabled, and insurance companies deem that a “pre-existing condition.” That means even though I’m not a risk today, insurance companies are certain I will be.
Won’t we all?
I finally was covered by my husband’s insurance, through his new employer. (After the Afghanistan war, we both went back to school to train for new careers.)
Then he was laid off, and we lost our insurance. This time, we couldn’t afford COBRA.
So, we stay healthy: We exercise one hour each day; don’t smoke; and try to sleep at least 7 hours a night. We’re vegetarians who are careful about what we eat. We’re productive, in full-time job searches, freelance work and volunteer work.
Still, I have a disability that limits my mobility and is accompanied by chronic pain. It would be foolhardy to be without health insurance, when I insure a car, apartment and belongings.
Since 2009, I’ve been ashamed to tell my family that, after a long and successful first career, I can’t land a job in my second career.
I was even more ashamed to admit I don’t have health insurance. (I believe this hurts my parents more than me, so I only informed them last week, and then, inadvertently.)
Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I get angry when I listen to all the noise about so-called “Obamacare.”
I believe in universal health care.
I don’t believe in the wealthy profiting from treating the sick.
I don’t understand denying health coverage to children because their parents can’t afford it.
I don’t understand the economics of treating the uninsured at hospital emergency wards (very expensive) while denying them neighborhood care (more affordable).
I truly don’t understand why people with disabilities aren’t entitled to health insurance in the richest country in the world. (And please, as a rehabilitation counselor, I know all about SSI and SSDI. I don’t qualify for either, and my disability does not prevent me from working.)
I am grateful to a clinic charging $99 for the one, annual visit I require to stay healthy.
I’m particularly grateful to Zoomcare staff for sensitivity toward patients without health insurance. (Imagine! We’re treated with the same respect as those with insurance!)
I’m grateful to the Supreme Court for agreeing to hear the current argument about the administration’s plan to make health care more equitable in the United States.
I’m especially grateful for good health.
When I was about to leave the examining room yesterday, I heard something I’ve never heard in a doctor’s office, in any country:
“Thank you for being healthy,” the physician’s assistant said.
I chuckled and replied, “I can’t imagine living any other way.”
“Oh, you’d be surprised how many people don’t want to …” she said.
“They don’t want to make the lifestyle changes needed to be healthier,” she explained, “like losing weight, stopping smoking …”
I nodded in agreement, wondering why we don’t get that — just like we don’t get that health care in the richest country in the world should be a right for all, not a privilege for the few.
Just as I’m grateful that a neighborhood clinic thanks people for staying in good health, I’m grateful they’re there to help us stay that way.