Tuesday, December 27, 2016

My Health Care Story

Recent news demonstrates the crucial difference the Affordable Care Act makes in our nation. According to recent reports, a record 6 million Americans signed up for coverage in 2017. And, earlier this month Vox ran a depressing story about a poor community in Kentucky that voted overwhelmingly for Trump despite the fact that the ACA has helped many in the community to receive insurance.

Earlier this month I wrote about the importance of speaking out and offering Moral Counsel by telling the stories of those who depend on the Affordable Care Act. But before I share some stories about people in my life, I want to tell you my own health care story.

My own health care story is largely one of privilege. All my adult life I have had health insurance. I was covered while enrolled as an undergraduate and graduate student.  Immediately following grad school I found employment as a Unitarian Universalist minister and have been employed non-stop for 14 years.

But one incident from the very beginning of my ministry haunts me. When I entered the ministry in 2003, most UU ministers were on their own to fend for themselves to obtain their own health care. For many this meant purchasing an individual plan. At age 25 I moved to a new city to begin my first ministry. The first thing I did was to apply for an individual plan with Blue Cross / Blue Shield. I filled out all the paper work to apply for the plan and a few days later received a letter in the mail saying that I had been rejected.

The reason they gave for rejecting me was that in the previous year I had filed insurance claims to pay for counseling. This, I was told, made me a bad bet. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with seeing a counselor, but in this case I had seen a counselor because it was highly recommended for those preparing for ministry. Those preparing for ministry take counseling classes, work as chaplains, and practice pastoral care as student ministers. Under supervision we are strongly encouraged to seek counseling as a means of developing self-awareness and self-understanding. Not having been in counseling is seen as a mark against prospective ministers.

So there I was, stuck. I was in a Catch-22. I needed to go through counseling to become a minister but I couldn’t get health insurance as a minister because I had been through counseling.

In response I spent a good chunk of the next several weeks calling the insurance company to challenge the rejection. I worked my way up the ladder, pleading my case with one person, then his manager, then her manager. I wrote letters of appeal. Finally, BC/BS caved and offered me insurance. If things had been otherwise, if I had actually had had a pre-existing condition like a chronic disease or a history of cancer, I would have been stuck. I was only able to receive health insurance because I was privileged. I had the time and language skills to call, persuade, and advocate for myself. I also had the privilege of health.

In 2003 the reason I could get insurance, the reason I could start the job I had been hired to do, was that I was in good health and could prove to the insurance company that I was a good bet to earn them a profit. This arbitrary situation improved four years later when the denomination created a health plan available to UU church employees.

But one that experience from 2003 still troubles me. For those few weeks in the summer of 2003 I felt the anxiety of someone not able to access health insurance. I am horrified by efforts to make health insurance less accessible for the citizens of our nation.