I Am Pregnant and Uninsured in America
My health insurance ran out on December 31st. The nice lady with Cigna quoted me in the ballpark of $750 a month to maintain my insurance through COBRA for 3 months, which wouldn't have gotten me to my due date. No insurance company will take me because pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition. Like cancer. Not that it matters, since I can't afford self-pay coverage, anyway. Any plan I can afford has a deductible so high that if I did find myself in a situation in which I needed to use the health insurance, I'd go bankrupt, so, in the end, I don't see the point.
Kurt has insurance through his job as well as USAA insurance because his father was a pilot in the Air Force. But even if we were married, the cost for dependents on his insurance through work is more than we can fork over and, get this, USAA doesn't offer maternity coverage. I guess veterans don't have babies.
So, yesterday I had the immense pleasure of spending a couple hours at the social services office in Pasadena. The Pasadena branch was recommended by friends when I told them about my experience at the Wilshire branch at which a lady who looked like this:
told me that I should arrive at 8 am and be prepared to spend the entire day there. The Pasadena office, my friends assured me, would be much quicker and less painful. And it was quick, relatively speaking. Two hours beats a whole day, especially when the bulk of that time will likely be spent waiting on a hard plastic chair in a waiting room filled with screaming babies and generally freaked out people with seemingly no concept of public decorum.
It's not that I expect people to sit quietly with their hands folded in their laps, but listening to music on your phone without headphones (and by "music" I mean something that had some kind of beat and a lot of sounds of gun shots and wolf whistles) or whistling the same two (flat) notes over and over again just seems to me to be, you know, not behavior to engage in in a crowded room filled with stressed-out people ready to snap. Then again, I'm sort of an asshole, so, who knows?
A woman sitting across the aisle from me with an extremely new baby in her arms and a crying infant in a stroller handed the infant AN EMPTY BOTTLE. I don't mean that there was a little milk or formula in the bottle. I mean the thing was bone dry. I don't think the inside of that bottle had EVER seen any kind of liquid. So, the kid sucks down some air for a minute or so until she realizes nothing is going to come out of that thing and she starts wailing again, at which point her mother leans in and says, "WHY ARE YOU STILL CRYING??"
I'm called into the office where I follow a woman through a labyrinth of hallways into a back office. She sits down across her desk from me, mumbles her name and asks me for my I.D.
She asks me if I have pay stubs from my unemployment insurance. I explain that there are no pay stubs with unemployment insurance but hand her my latest Notice of Unemployment Insurance Benefits Determination form. One would think this form would kind of supersede a pay stub as it lists the benefit amount and how much total I will be paid over time in bi-monthly payments. But, no, they really need pay stubs.
"But there are no pay stubs," I repeat.
"Then what about a bank statement?" She asks.
"There's no bank statement, either," I say. "There's no actual bank account. I get an EDD debit card. I withdraw the money from the EDD account and put it in my bank account ... in cash. It's a government program. Kinda like ... you know, what you guys provide."
She gives me an open-mouthed, vacant stare.
"Well, hopefully the determination notice you gave will be enough."
"Yes. Hopefully," I sigh.
She types what must be an opus into her computer.
"You're getting pregnancy-only coverage," she tells me, finally.
"I'd like to get full coverage."
"You don't qualify."
"You make too much income."
"I'm on unemployment!"
"The cut-off is $1,262 a month," she says.
I don't even know what I can possibly say to this. This woman doesn't make the rules. There's no point screaming at her, though that's what I REALLY want to do. But seriously? $1,262? What kind of fucking demented douchebag is setting the poverty level?
"So, if I break my arm," I say, as calmly as I possibly can, "I'm not covered?"
"If you get sick beyond the pregnancy, you're not covered."
Sick beyond the pregnancy.
"Who's your O.B.?" She asks.
"I don't have an O.B. I have a midwife."
"But who's your doctor?"
"I don't have a doctor. I have a midwife."
"Is that where they have the baby at home?"
" ... I am planning on having the baby at home."
"We don't cover that."
"You don't say."
Someone else comes by to tell me that I have to put my boyfriend on the form if I want to apply for food stamps. I wasn't going to apply for food stamps, but I'd heard you get a free breast pump if you're on food stamps when you have a baby. I know immediately Kurt's income will make me ineligible for food stamps.
"But we're not married," I offer.
"It doesn't matter. You share meals together, right?"
"I mean, yeah."
"So we have to check his income."
"Fine. I won't apply for food stamps."
The next four forms I sign are for food stamps.
"Why am I signing this if I'm not applying for food stamps?" I ask.
"Okay, but this form is for food stamps."
"And I'm not applying for food stamps."
"Okay. I've always been told not to sign forms with incorrect information on them."
"This is the form."
I sigh again and sign the form at which point this woman actually says to me, "You seem upset. Are you okay?"
"No. I'm not okay. I'm pissed. I'm angry at this system."
The next form I sign is a sign stating I've changed my mind about food stamps and am not applying after all.
At the end of this I'm handed a form with a list of things I need to mail in including:
Proof of rent
Latest utility bills
Checking and savings account statements
The last two pay stubs from unemployment
I didn't bother to state again that there are no pay stubs. She also hands me a flyer for "Healthy Way L.A."
"You can apply for this to cover other medical issues," she says as she closes the door behind me.
I was so ready to get out of there at that point that I just folded up the flyer and shoved it in my purse.
I call The Actors' Fund to see about getting assistance to pay for COBRA. If I qualify, I can get a one time grant of $700. That's more forms and appointments. I suppose I can reapply for the assistance each month. I didn't ask.
I call my parents to fill them in. My dad says,
"Did you tell the person at The Actors' Fund how much money you've helped raise for them over the years?"
"I don't think that's a factor," I tell him.
I get home and before collapsing for a nap I rummage for the Healthy Way L.A. flyer. I figure I'll give myself the rest of the day off and call them the next day. Then I see the following two criteria for eligibility:
Has a monthly income at or below 133% of the Federal Poverty Level, which in 2011, is $1,207 per month for a family of one
Not pregnant and not eligible for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families
So, that's that. If I need or want to be transferred to the hospital during labor, Medi-Cal will (I guess) cover that. But if I get the flu or get hit by a bus, I'm not privileged enough to get affordable health care.
Will someone please explain to me how Canada's health care system is worse than ours?
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