(Interview 10/2010. Oil on linen, 40 ins. x 30 ins. )
I've reviewed all Art As Social Inquiry's stories for this website. This is one of the last.
Yet again, after reviewing almost 100 portrait stories, I am tasked with trying to convey what it means to lose one's job, one's health insurance. To be uninsured and diagnosed with a serious medical problem. To be scared. To be pacing in one's kitchen what to do what to do what to do? To be afraid, sick, uninsured. To be facing possible death without the full measure of US medicine to come to the rescue. To wonder how a formerly employed, productive, contributing, tax-paying American could end up running through his retirement savings and groveling for healthcare after he lost his job.
This project has made me see that we must decouple health insurance from employment. And while the Affordable Care Act (ACA) gave 31 million people a way to insurance - THANK GOD FOR THAT -- there are still too many who fall through the cracks and remain uninsured. The ACA put in place a safety net and many consumer protections in place. But we need more. We need a system where citizens do not have to become experts how not to be afraid all the time about getting healthcare and how much it will cost.
(from a 2010 interview)
Laid-off Print Production Coordinator for Large Investments Company, Age 51, PA Fair Care Insured
The subject had a full-time position with health insurance benefits at a large investment group for 6 years. Laid-off and unemployed, he used his retirement funds to continue to pay $380/month ($472.21 in 2021 dollars) for his health insurance made possible through the COBRA , a law that gives employees the right to continue with their former employers' health plans for a limited time. But very often, the former employees must pay the full premium themselves.
The subject continued living on retirement funds and money from odd jobs when unemployment compensation ended. He also became a caretaker for his sick mother.
Six months before COBRA expired, the subject’s doctor found a bicuspid aortic valve. After an echocardiogram and a full check-up, the subject received a $1000 bill ($1,242.66 in 2021 dollars) from the hospital for an outpatient visit even though he was insured.
The subject’s COBRA provision ended after 18 months. His former employer was no longer required to offer him group insurance even though the subject paid the premium in full.
The subject received a letter from the employer's insurer saying he was being dropped altogether. The subject tried to buy an individual policy from the insurer after COBRA ended but they would not sell him one. (Before healthcare reform, insurers could review an applicant's medical records and refuse to sell him a single policy if he had preexisting conditions. This subject had heart problems and was not an attractive customer for the insurers. He might have expensive claims the insurers would have to pay.)
The ACA passed in 2010 but the online marketplaces, where this subject could buy a policy without regard to his medical history, did not start until 2014. Obamacare addressed the gap. The new healthcare law made provisions for people with serious medical problems and no way to get health insurance. Each state would receive federal funds to set up high risks pools for the uninsurable like this subject. In this subject's state, the high risk pool was called PA Fair Care. The subject qualified for the program and for financial help as well.
The subject now pays a subsidized premium of $283.20/month for transitional insurance until 2014 when he will be able to purchase insurance on the Affordable Care Act’s exchanges even with a preexisting condition. The Affordable Care Act outlaws denying an individual an insurance policy because of one's medical history
The subject loves animals, and is now applying for a position at a pet supply store. He still looks for full-time employment with health benefits.
If PA Fair Care is repealed, the subject fears he will be uninsurable because of his pre-existing condition.