Living in between jobs for too long often means your health insurance payments are unsustainable

Woman_s_fingers_crossedThe 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.

uninsuredNow, 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.

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8 COMMENTS

  1. See, I just don’t react to this economic environment like this anymore.

    I already lost every shred of hope that I could reach my dreams in life. Owing $50,000 in hospital bills already, $65,000 on student loans (after paying for *20 years*), and with $3000 to my name despite a graduate degree and working my ass off to make ends meet while taking care of a 90 year old bipolar aunt, her handicapped special needs daughter, and now my husband dying of brain cancer, I KNOW that my needs in this life will never be met. I know, beyond any shadow of doubt, that by age 70 or 75 or so, I will be all, all, all alone, very, very old, and very, VERY poor. I WILL be eating out of garbage cans and quite possibly homeless.

    So I just quit worrying about it. This scenario IS in my future and many, many, MANY other people’s. I’m just focusing now on learning how to live on absolutely nothing, and forgetting all about what I expected and “how it should have been” because IT’S NOT GOING TO BE THAT WAY.

    Why even waste the energy? If you would be poor in a month if you lost your job tomorrow, YOU’RE ACTUALLY POOR NOW. And the vast majority of the country is in exactly these circumstances. While hating and dumping on itself for not being good enough and not working hard enough. and thinking every American is really Ray Croc, and lazy and bad if that kind of fabulous good fortune in business does not come to pass for him.

  2. it’s the domino effect: i lost my job of 10 years and my health insurance, forget cobra- it cost $850, my unemployment insurance ran out, my 401 k is spent, my savings are gone, the bank took my crumbling, little $25,000 house, my pets belong to strangers, relatives in another state took me in and now because my “pre-existing conditions” were left untreated for so long, i’m on disability at age 51. there’s more, but i won’t bore you with the details.

  3. My wife just shared this with me … We’re firmly in that boat.

    AND I’m a card-carrying Republican.

    Yes, my party usually does completely misunderstand the world as it really is. I don’t look forward to Obamacare… But I also know that the arguments against are generally completely stereotypical and outrageously WRONG!!!

    The truth is, there’s a real problem with insurance and healthcare … and it’s not about laziness. As I speak, I’m in a Starbucks (the walls close in).

    No, I’m NOT drinking a latte, a Frappucino or anything else pricey. I’m sipping my last indulgence, a Venti Pike (with extra cream — which is free).

    I still have internet at home … for now … but this is often my new “workplace”.

    And as I sit here, my to-do list includes:

    1) Search the job boards and Craigslist and email as appropriate
    2) Network on LinkedIn
    3) Cash out my meager 401K

    Yes, that is real and actual. The next thing I will do as I laze in my hammock is gut what little future I had.

    Chew on that my fellow GOP … and change your arguments!

    Dave

    • Dave,

      This is a crowded boat in which we find ourselves. Or crowded hammock. You sound like an actual Republican, and I miss those. Good luck to you. My husband is currently at his job interview, and I’ll send a thought out into the universe that you’re soon at one as well.

    • I know why the GOP says the things they do. They are bought and paid for by billionaires like the Koch Brothers who don’t want to be taxed for any social services like unemployment insurance, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare, public schools, etc. They want to take it all from us as George Carlin once said in his on stage comedy routine. The Kochs and other big business owners want to take away all unions, and the minimum wage, They fund the GOP and the conservative media and this is why you hear GOP’ers like Ryan say the things they do.

      The Kochs own a huge oil and coal firm. And they fund what is called climate science denial. Nope, can’t be no global warming, we’ve got a business to run. Can’t have that go under by the world going green. So GOP politicians and conservative, and now even conspiratorial radio hosts are in on the climate denial money making game. The Kochs and other energy interests pay well for climate science denial. The oil and coal industry has even recruited scientists to shill for them. As a result, almost half the people in this country think that global warming is a hoax. Sad. All of this mess is sad. And poor and middle class people don’t have the money to get their message out over the media, except on the net.

  4. I feel you’re pain. I’ve been one paycheck away from bad times a number of times. I never thought I’d ever say, “Thank God for the Veterans Administration”, but stranger things happen, I guess. Hang in there, and good hunting.

    • I say Thank God for the Veterans Administration all the time. I had a meager health insurance policy with my employer, but lost it when they fired me (retail, during the stock market plummet) I live in what is laughingly called a Right to Work State which means that you can get fired for anything or nothing at all. I was sixty-two and could not find work for the life of me. Who wants to hire a sixty two year old woman who will (statistically) start falling apart any second. I did not know what to do (stress makes your mind shut down for awhile) My Mother had just moved in with me as she could no longer live by herself, and we were a pair of worry warts. I could not get my unemployment started because we no longer had the luxury of going to the Unemployment office in our state. We had to apply on line and fax material to the office. And wait…wait…wait. And call to find out that the office didn’t get the application (even though I had a copy of the application saved to my files) The UO did this four times and then just stopped any communication whatsoever. I contacted a lawyer to help with the process, but you know lawyers, If he fixed the problem I would be paying him out of the proceeds from my Unemployment checks? Then my son came home from Afghanistan and helped me out. I didn’t know I was eligible to get health care from the VA, and argued with him all the way to the VA office. Needless to say he was correct and I got my health care. And found out that I had two cancers in my breast. The bright side is that the VA took care of literally everything and although I am a few pounds lighter on my top side, I am alive and able to care for my Mother who is the light of my life. Living in a Red State has few pluses if you’re far beneath the poverty line, but we live small lives and the public library which allows us to check out movies and books is another gift from above.

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