June 24, 2009

Pre-existing Conditions & Your Career Path

California Prisons

I’ve had to live with jobs that were way off my career path just to pay my health insurance.  Heidi Adams, executive director of Planet Cancer, is going to be asking President Obama about this very issue on ABC Primetime tonight live at 10 PM EST.  The program is called “Questions for the President: Prescription for America” (Must see young adult cancer TV.  Go Heidi Go!)

During cancer treatment I lived on disability.  Afterwords I needed a job with health insurance.  In my book Everything Changes, I wrote about my day job working for a non-profit organization that helped ex-offenders. “I sat in church basements with rapists and murderers (a remarkably respectful and nice bunch of guys) teaching résumé writing and feeding them the organization’s line that if you work hard enough, you can achieve anything. These men and I knew this was bullshit, that life’s circumstances don’t necessarily comply with will or effort.”

The job had ups and downs.  The downs: My employer’s insurance agent called me nonstop asking when my cancer would be gone so their healthcare rates would go down.  I worked 40 hours a week, the pay was lousy, and I had no reserve energy to write or choreograph.  For the first time in my life I was utterly non-creative.  So much for living your dreams after cancer, right?

The ups: I had health insurance.  And, the men I taught were pretty cool.  After going through cancer it was great to be surrounded by people who were also struggling to adjust to “normal” life.  They made me feel like less of a freak.  We were good company for each other.  Is it pathetic that ex-cons made me feel normal?  I don’t think so.  We were all just people trying to cope with change.

How has cancer and the need for health coverage impacted your work life?  What jobs have you taken that you would not have otherwise?  What were the ups and downs?  Are you job searching now or returning to work and how are you handling it?

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February 18, 2009

Pot Smoking, Snowboarding, and Opting Out of Health Insurance

A few years back my twenty-something co-worker and I were bored stiff. We had already played hooky from work 7 times to go snowboarding, smoked through a five-pound bag of pot we kept stashed with the extra reams of paper in the mailroom, blown our paychecks on iPod paraphernalia, pulled three false fire alarms, filed two fake workplace discrimination claims, and photocopied our asses at least a dozen times.

Staring into our Cup-o-Soups, my co-worker had a brilliant idea: “Why don’t you resign from your position, I’ll forget to submit your COBRA papers to the government, and then you can get diagnosed with cancer without any insurance.” Dude, how novel, that sounds like fun.

Fact Vs. Fiction
‘Young invincibles’ is a favorite term used by insurance companies, and perpetuated by journalists, that describes slacker twenty-somethings in stories like the one above, who chose to forgo insurance even when they could afford it. But the problem is the story above is actually fictional, as is the notion that twenty-somethings are a tribe of well-fed slacker who don’t want to waste their money on insurance.

I don’t snowboard, smoke pot, photocopy my ass, or own an iPod. I did, however, without planning, get diagnosed with cancer the week that my co-worker forgot to submit my COBRA papers, leaving me completely uninsured. Believe me it wasn’t by choice. Believe me health insurance is unaffordable, with or without a pre-existing condition. Believe me, young adults want insurance, we just cannot afford it. ‘Young Invincibles’ are not the norm. Here’s what is the norm:

  • 46% of young adults report having medical debt, significantly changing their lives to pay medical bills, or being contacted by collection companies because they are unable to pay medical bills.
  • 73% of employed young adult accept health insurance when it is offered to them, only slightly less than the 82% of adults 30 or over.

The Moratorium

So, I’m officially placing a moratorium on the phrase ‘young invincibles’. It appeared both in the New York Times today and on CNN’s website yesterday. I’m taking a vote on what you think the name should be changed to instead:

A. Impoverished kids who get the SCHIP boot when they turn 19
B. Twenty-somethings whose bottom of the career ladder jobs don’t offer benefits and pay next to nothing so they cannot afford the steep costs of health insurance.
C. Undergrad and grad students who are going to school part-time and working part-time and neither offer insurance.
D. All of the above.

Does the term young invincibles piss you off too? How many young adults do you know who do not have health insurance because they choose not to? How many young adults do you know who don’t have health insurance because they cannot afford it or are already in medical debt?

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