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The Humiliation of Going to the Emergency Room Uninsured.

Theresa BrownGold's painting "The Humiliation of Being Uninsured" for her art project, Art As Social Inquiry.

(Interview 1/ 2011. Oil on linen 40 ins x 30 ins.)

Original painting from 2011. Oil on cavas, 40 ins.x30 ins.

I repainted this subject in 2022. She's younger in this latest version. And I like the new painting a lot. I was never in love with the first one although there are parts of it I really like.

But, you know, I'm not sure I really have her now. I interviewed and painted her as part of an interview for a local PBS station. Maybe the whole process was too public. That's not really an excuse. I've painting some good portraits of people I never met. I don't know.

Update 2021

Had the Affordable Care Act been fully implemented in 2011, this subject would have qualified for a marketplace plan under the special enrollment guidelines. Her reduced income may have qualified her for a premium subsidy to help her pay for an insurance policy.

The subject was laid off from her job of 5 years. The COBRA law gave her the right to keep the health insurance she had with her employer. But she would have to pay the entire premium herself with no employer contribution. She could not afford it.

She received a bill for the hospital ER visit which she has not opened because money is tight.

The subject needed medical care while she was uninsured. I do not believe I have the skill to put into words the all-pervasive angst a person feels when she cannot get care because she is uninsured. For many it feels like missing the last ferry to the mainland and being stuck on an island with no electricity, lodging or food. The weather is treacherous, and animals are about to debauch the land with her stuck on it. Utter despair.

This subject and I have lost touch. I have not been able to reach her.


Theresa BrownGold's painting "The Humiliation of Being Uninsured" for her art project, Art As Social Inquiry.

(from a 2011 interview)

Grass Roots Organizer Laid-Off from a Non-Profit Organization, Uninsured, Age 53

This woman was laid off from a organization where she worked for 5 years.

She expects to get employment with health benefits in early 2011 at another non-profit that advocates for low and moderate income families.

The subject has been without benefits since February 2010. This is the first time she has ever been without health insurance in her life.

The subject could not afford to pay the $300 ($360.44 in 2021 dollars) to continue her health insurance coverage through COBRA, a federal law that gives workers the right to continue getting insurance from their former employer. Very often, the former employee must pay the premium in full to keep the health coverage.

The subject was sure she had a plan B. She thought she could be added to her husband's policy through his work after she lost her job. She thought getting on a spouse's policy as a dependent was like adding a new baby anytime. This turned out not to be true for adding spouses.

The subject missed the deadline to enroll as a dependent on her husband's employer-sponsored health plan during open enrollment, a period of time when employees can make changes to their health insurance coverage.

The subject found herself uninsured.

She had always been conscientious about check-ups and was concerned about missing them at 53 years old. She felt she was losing control because she was worried about her finances. “I had to put my health on hold. I had to push through this year fast.”

The subject got sick with bronchitis. She tried to avoid a doctor's bill and treated herself with over-the-counter products. She self-medicated for 3 weeks. She finally saw her doctor who prescribed stronger medicine. The subject still lost her voice for three weeks. She paid $50 for the doctor and $60 for the prescriptions.

The subject admits to feeling some humiliation when she could no longer avoid care for a female problem and went to the emergency room. “I felt I was put in the category of the uninsured. I worked my whole life, contributed, paid taxes and always had insurance.”

The subject believes the ER doctors misdiagnosed her condition. Her gynecologist resolved her problem in a follow-up consultation. She received a bill for the hospital ER visit which she has not opened because money is tight. She can't bring herself to look at the bill.

The subject knows she is getting health insurance in 2011. “I'll feel complete. The first thing I'm going to do is get a mammogram, full gynecological check-up and bloodwork.” She said she will also get dental work completed that she had to stop when she lost her insurance.


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