The Way We Do Health Insurance In America Is Bullsh*t

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
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This past summer, our family switched health insurance plans due to my husband’s job change. His new job was offering insurance too, and we just had to pick plans and move things over. No big deal, huh? Seems simple enough, right?


First of all, because my husband is a teacher and off for the summer, it was very unclear to us for several months whether his previous job would continue covering our family over the summer. It literally took us 15 phone calls (and hella long wait times) to find out an answer to this question. And even when we thought it was answered, we were told we’d have to “wait and see” how the payroll department dealt with the change-over. Hmmmm…

We looked into COBRA (a federal law that allows you to buy health insurance from your former employer during job gaps), but learned that it was expensive AF. However, as the parents of two young kids (both of whom have asthma), there was no freaking way we could go without health insurance for our family.

Yup, these sorts of money and health questions are just the kinds of things that keep parents up at night, and they most definitely kept me up.

For months.

When summer finally hit and we found out that coverage would continue (yay!), we were then faced with the transition to the new health insurance plan. For the first time — even though my husband’s new job offered insurance — we would have to pay into our premium. Let’s just say that this was a much higher amount than I expected it to be.

Enter a whole new slew of sleepless nights, major adjustments to our budget, and applying for government sponsored health insurance for the kids (CHIP; thanks for saving that, Congress), which was only marginally cheaper.

All of this took another one million phone calls, and customer service reps (bless their hearts) who each told us different things. Oh, and it turned out there still would likely be a week or more when no one was covered, so we had to decide between using COBRA or keeping our kids in a disease-and-accident shielded bubble for that week.

Cue another round of fitful, sleepless nights and anxiety attacks.

At one point during all of this, I took to Facebook to vent about all our health insurance woes. And not only did many of my friends share my sentiments, and had their own horror stories, but my friend from Canada lent her perspective – and it just about shattered me.

“Health insurance here in Canada is not perfect,” she said. “But never once have I had to fill out any paperwork to get it. Never once have I had to worry about a gap between coverage or whether I could afford it. I just go to the doctor, get treated, and go home.”


I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. But I couldn’t help but think that there is something terribly wrong with how we do health insurance in America. Namely, that it’s complete and utter horseshit.

I know that in many ways, I am one of the lucky ones. I’m not one of the roughly 12% of Americans who don’t have health insurance at all. Although health insurance is expensive AF, I can afford it. I also have the time and know-how to spend an ungodly number of hours on the phone dissecting all the info, and making sure that my family gets the best and least expensive coverage.

I know that other families are not so fortunate, and despite advances we’ve made in making sure people are fairly covered (say what you want about the Affordable Care Act, but things like removing the “pre-existing conditions” clause and keeping kids on insurance until age 26 is huge progress in my mind), we are really fucking behind.

And, yes, people are dying in America simply because they are not getting fair and decent health insurance. This is not okay.

Health insurance should be like all the other things that are publicly funded in this country – our police departments, fire departments, schools, libraries, parks, etc. Did you ever think to yourself: “Things would be so much better if we all paid for our own police and fire departments, or if there were zero public schools anymore”? I didn’t think so.

How is health insurance any different than those things? We all believe it is at least partially the job of the government to keep us protected from fire and crime, and keep our streets clean and safe.

Healthcare is certainly as much a right as anything else. And it should not be this freaking difficult or expensive to get basic health coverage. It just shouldn’t. Everyone should be covered easily and inexpensively. Families should not have to worry about gaps in coverage, ridiculous deductibles and copays – or finding out that certain lifesaving medicines or treatments are simply not covered by their particular plan.

Listen: it’s hard enough dealing with a difficult medical condition. Why should we also add the stress of sorting things out with insurance while all this is going on? Or worse yet, not being able to afford life-saving healthcare?

All of this is absolutely unacceptable.

I’m not a lawmaker, nor do I fully understand all the ins and outs of how insurance companies work. But I do know that almost all Americans want something better – and a majority of them would be interested in some version of universal health insurance (60% of Americans support this, according to the latest polls).

Because in the same way that no family should have to worry about what they would do if their house caught on fire, or whether they can afford to call 911, we all should be able to sleep at night knowing that we will be properly cared for if we became gravely ill, broke a leg, or needed cancer treatment.

We can do better, America. We need to do better. Let’s get on it.

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