Living in between jobs for too long often means your health insurance payments are unsustainable
The week of July 4th, my husband walked through the back door a little after ten in the morning. He looked shell shocked and carried a manila folder in his hand. His face was pale and it was hard for him to look me in the eye. For the second time in six years, my husband was unemployed.
It seems to happen in the morning, this laying off of managers. There was no hint the company that had moved us out to the middle of nowhere a little over two years ago would suddenly find my husband’s salary so massive, they would be “forced” to send him home one July morning.
He was not alone, his former employer got rid of four other managers, successfully trimming their budget. This coming fall, that company plans to dissolve an entire division and lay off twenty five factory workers. Merry Christmas, here’s your pink slip.
We moved here from Vermont after another large corporation decided my husband’s salary was just too much for them to handle. Oddly, they had given him a raise, they had given him bonuses, but suddenly, oh no we can’t afford you, ciao. They did not offer a severance package, unlike this last company, nor did they offer any sort of help with health insurance.
Vermont has a state health insurance program and we were lucky enough not to have much money in savings so we could qualify. Vermont considered my husband’s unemployment benefits minimal enough that when combined with our measly savings, we could partake in the state insurance program.
This time, we have more money. We sold our house in Vermont and invested the proceeds. We aren’t poor now, we’re solidly middle class and therefore invisible. And we are less than three months away from having no health insurance. My husband’s latest layoff included three months of COBRA coupons, but once that “deal” ends, we will pay almost $1,500 a month for health insurance. We could handle that payment for about four months before we’d have to move everything in savings over to checking and access the investment money. We would no longer be able to deposit money each month into our son’s college fund.
But I know people who don’t have money saved, who don’t have investments, who don’t have the luxury of a company that gave them a severance package and three months of COBRA insurance at a fraction of the cost. While this situation could drive us into bankruptcy within a year or so, there are Americans right now who are literally days away from having nothing, because of health insurance.
Now, we would be okay for that year as long as nothing goes wrong. If one of us gets sick, or there’s an accident or the house we’re renting burns down, we’re dead in the water. We’re living with our fingers crossed: crossed that my husband gets the job he’s interviewing for, crossed that if he doesn’t, we can find a way to insure our family, crossed that in the months between October and January, nothing goes wrong.
Obamacare kicks in January of 2014. Starting in October, Americans can visit websites and fill out little surveys and begin to look for health insurance through the ACA (Obamacare’s technical name is The Affordable Care Act). It’s now August. What are people supposed to do until January, 2014? What people always do who cannot afford health insurance do – cross their fingers.
The working poor, the middle class and the unemployed are demonized in this country. Remember Paul Ryan’s “hammock” comment? The evening Ryan made that despicable remark, my husband had spent the entire day online emailing his resume.
He had schlepped down to the unemployment office to prove he was looking for work and wasn’t just a “moocher,” as the GOP now calls everyone without employment. He was exhausted. Tears sprang into my eyes as I listened to Paul Ryan claim my husband was just lounging around, enjoying his whopping $450 a week so much, he didn’t want to look for work.
In our world and in our family, the most frightening thing about being unemployed is not the money, although that does keep me up some nights. It’s the health insurance, it’s the fact that my husband is in his late fifties and less employable because of his age. It’s the hate and derision being thrown like stones at people just like my husband, people who through no fault of their own staggered into their own homes one morning, clutching a manila envelope, suddenly unemployed. It’s the not knowing.
He has a second in-person interview this coming Wednesday. He’s the most qualified, in my opinion (I’m a little biased) and it is our hope that he is offered this job. Because if he’s not, there is no work for me in this town and I cannot make nearly what he can. So I am afraid, and when the fear gets the better of me, I begin to “kitchen sink.”
I lump everything together in one, huge ball of stress and fear and I cry. Watching the man I love drive down to the unemployment office every week, watching my child look at me with doubt in his eyes, watching this town slowly die and watching other people lose everything because of predatory health insurance companies is horrible. There’s a feeling of helplessness that is almost too much to bear.
It shouldn’t be like this. You shouldn’t have to worry about losing your house, your savings, your child’s college fund because of health insurance. And while millions of people just like us are dealing with this exact same fear, the GOP is trying to overturn Obamacare again. You shouldn’t go bankrupt or die because you can’t afford health insurance. Your life should not be lived with your fingers crossed.