I’m ever-grateful for good health, and now that I have a full-time job with benefits in the United States, I’m grateful to have full health care again.
I am keenly aware that this is perhaps the greatest gift of employment here.
I learned the hard way that disability bars me from health insurance in this country.
Every insurer I contacted — including all the firms that had insured me before, through various employers — rejected me for health coverage when I became unemployed.
Why people with disabilities are denied U.S. health insurance
For non-Americans, this is unbelievable, so let me explain. I could not get health insurance because I was deemed one of the people who needed it most. Insurers won’t cover people they predict will be a big drain on their accounts, unless the risk is shared with an employer who contributes to health coverage.
This, by the way, includes women, who cost more to insure because they use more health care. (We get pregnant; we have babies.) I was told that even as a woman who has never been pregnant — and doesn’t intend to — I am a higher risk for American health insurers.
My disability — acquired in the Afghanistan war — was deemed a “pre-existing condition” and therefore precluded health insurance.
So I did what I’ve always tried to do: Stay healthy.
I exercise every day; eat a vegetarian diet (with plenty of West Coast, cold-water fish for protein); and try to get sound, restorative sleep each night.
I believe I’ve stayed healthy, through three years of unemployment, by staying optimistic. Research shows this makes a big difference in mental and physical health.
When I met my new doctor this week, I was so grateful to learn that she, too, was an immigrant. I was grateful to learn that she understands the humiliation of no health coverage in the U.S. (trust me, you’re treated like a criminal sometimes for being uninsured here, even when you pay for every single thing with your own money. I have stories …)
I was grateful to see she has compassion for the underprivileged, after working in several under-served communities across the U.S., as part of her medical training.
I was grateful that this doctor had the time to discuss the importance of preventative health care during my annual exam.
We talked about workplace stress and how one copes. We discussed the challenge, for many, of maintaining a healthy diet, when incomes are low and cost-of-living expenses are high.
The privilege of having a job
We agreed that living in Washington, with all its natural beauty, is a healthy choice for us, who are privileged to have jobs and health insurance. It’s such a great place to stay fit for free.
I’m grateful for meeting a gentle, young doctor, who takes time to get to know her patients, and welcomes an opportunity to discuss healthy living choices with them.
I’m grateful that she sees some patients pro bono who cannot afford health insurance, or who are denied health coverage due to “pre-existing conditions.”
And yes, I am thankful to have been unemployed in this country, and learn what that means. (I have many stories …)
As an immigrant, it makes me that much more grateful to have a full-time job.
I’m especially grateful for good health, and I’m confident my new doctor shares that gratitude.
After pronouncing me strong and healthy, despite disability, she uttered four of the best words I’ve ever heard from an American doctor: “See you next year!”