I was uninsured for 2020. Here's why I chose to #getcovered.
Never before in my life have I ever had to worry about health insurance. Then came 2020.
In January of this year, I left my stressful position at an assisted living facility. I’d been hesitant to do so initially, but with no other job offers coming through, and my physical and mental health suffering from the long hours I was putting in, it seemed like my only option. While I didn’t love the idea of going without health insurance for a few weeks (or months), I figured that I’d find another job relatively soon, and that it wouldn’t be a big deal. “I’m young, and healthy, so I’ll just be cautious and stay in shape until I find a new position with insurance.” I wasn’t worried, and I’d even done so once before while in between jobs, so I assumed it would be fine.
Little did I know that less than two months later, the coronavirus would send the world (and the U.S. economy) into a tailspin. As I continued my job application process throughout March into June, I watched the postings becoming fewer and fewer. Even healthcare- my chosen industry- was hit, as many ‘frontline’ positions were furloughed or let go. Several friends already working as nurses and doctors informed me that their hospitals and companies had even issued hiring freezes lasting for several months. By July, the job market seemed to be improving, but very slowly, meaning getting new insurance coverage was unfortunately going to take much longer than I’d thought.
Now, while I am very lucky to be young, in good health, and to not have any chronic conditions, small issues slowly started to pile up during this time. Over Memorial Day weekend I came down with a minor infection which, while nothing serious, required me to schedule a visit with a physician and pay out-of-pocket for a round of antibiotics that came out to almost $150. In June, after I started running again, an old knee injury started to flare up, but I had to choose to forgo getting it checked to avoid extra expenses. In July, I had to cancel my dental cleaning for a second time, the first one initially canceled in April due to COVID. One morning in August, I woke up with a small fever, and fearing it might be the virus (thankfully it wasn’t), frantically looked up the price of local testing which, while intended to be free of charge, some neighbors had informed me that they had received surprise bills. By September, I worried about the cost of getting a flu shot, was down to my last few pairs of contact lenses, was overdue for my annual eye and general wellness exams and considering seeking counseling for some mild anxiety from the pandemic. While I was still budgeting as best I could, paying for all these services without insurance would have easily cost me hundreds or even thousands of dollars more, and trying to figure out how to afford it all was increasing my stress significantly.
Then came October. With the open enrollment period open again, I felt a huge sense of relief. NPAF’s #GetCovered resources were incredibly helpful in understanding what I needed to do to enroll, and navigate the Health Insurance Marketplace. Within 30 minutes, I had successfully set up an account on healthcare.gov, and was able to easily browse the different insurance plan options, with the costs and benefits clearly explained and easy to understand. By January 1, I’ll be able to start scheduling my doctor visits again. Thankfully, I’m still in relatively good health, but it will take several months for me to catch up on all the appointments and checkups that I’ve had to postpone due to the pandemic and being unemployed.
If there’s anything this whole experience has taught me, it’s to never take my good health and coverage for granted. I gained a whole new perspective and understanding of the harsh realities that many individuals who can’t afford insurance face every day. I can’t imagine having to go back to living without it again, or what it must be like to live with the daily stress of getting sick and not being able to afford a simple doctor visit or prescription.
Lauren Shaw is a NPAF volunteer and a resident of Virginia.