Even some of my family members were unaware that this time last year, I was among the more than two million Georgians, including a quarter of all Georgia women, without health insurance.
Now, because of Obamacare, I am able to buy health insurance through a national pool for people who have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions.
Last week, as National Women’s Health Week concluded, I wrote this editorial, Obamacare is a plus for women’s health care, for my hometown newspaper, The Telegraph.
I could not imagine writing about all the wonderful benefits Obamacare affords women – like access to free preventive care, contraception coverage and maternity care – without being open and honest about my experience. After all, providing access to health care is the most basic and most important benefit secured by the new health care law.
I was initially reluctant to tell my story because those who do not have health insurance are often stigmatized as poor, lazy, and irresponsible. The truth is, before Obamacare, every American was a pink slip or a diagnosis away from joining the ranks of the uninsured.
I never expected to be without health insurance. I’ve worked since I was a teenager. I worked as I put myself through college and graduate school and now own a business where as a marriage and family therapist, I provide health care to others daily. In my family, hard work, independence and personal responsibility are important values. And, like so many women, I juggled school, a career and family, often spending more time caring for others than taking care of my own health.
Last year, when private insurance companies rejected me because of a pre-existing condition, I was stunned. As a small business owner, I did not have access to a group health plan. Georgia lags behind other states that have already created high risk pools and exchanges for small businesses. I wasn’t sure where to turn.
As I explored my options, I was relieved to find that, after a six month waiting period, because of the new health care law, I would be able to buy private insurance through a newly created national pool.
As I have talked with others, I’ve learned that many people are unaware of this opportunity to buy private health insurance through the national pool. The online application just takes minutes to complete, and the rates are competitive. I actually pay less than I did for my old insurance, and this year, when I received a notice of rate adjustment, it is the first time I have ever gotten a letter from an insurance company telling me my rate was going down. Click here to learn more about the options for people with pre-existing conditions,
Being without health insurance for six months was like living with a ticking time bomb. I never knew which day I might find a lump in my breast or suffer from a heart attack, stroke or another major, expensive health problem. I knew that if the worst happened, I might not be able to get the care I needed, and even if I could, the cost would be financially devastating for my family. (Medical bills are the #1 cause of personal bankruptcy.) Unlike so many who are uninsured, I did not have an ongoing health crisis that required costly care, and my family doctor did not drop me as a patient once my insurance lapsed. I was lucky.
But hoping to be lucky is not sound healthcare policy for our country. Every American is a health care consumer. Now, far more Americans have the opportunity to take responsibility for their own health care by purchasing health insurance. Far from a government handout, this program opens the door to personal responsibility by allowing people to pay for private health insurance.
Now the law provides options for people with pre-existing conditions to buy health insurance, and it prevents insurance companies from canceling the insurance you have paid for when you need it.
As we wait for the Supreme Court to rule on the Affordable Care Act, I hope we do not return to the day when insurance companies controlled who had access to health care, an unworkable system that left nearly 50 million Americans uninsured. I hope the reforms that are now in place, that are already benefiting millions, will stay in place and look forward to the more comprehensive changes in 2014 when insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to anyone because of a pre-existing condition.
Now, that’s just what the doctor ordered!
Amy Morton is a marriage and family therapist in Macon. A graduate of Leadership Macon, Amy is active in the community. She has served as coordinator of the Rainbow House in Warner Robins, worked for The Methodist Children’s Home in Macon and served on the executive committee for Community Partnership, the Family Connection program for Bibb County. Amy is the founding chairwoman of Better Georgia.