Next week I turn 26, which is the magical age by which our legislators have decided that we must start paying for our own health insurance. Also, I think maybe I can rent a car without paying for extra insurance.
If I hadn’t quit my job last year to go to grad school, 26 would have come and gone without a second notice. I would still be living in Chicago, getting health insurance through my job. But I did quit my job last year to go to grad school, and then a month after I started grad school, I was diagnosed with cancer. Luckily I by chance had double coverage last fall, which was particularly expensive because of my surgery, and luckily Obama’s health plan became law because I was able to benefit from the before-26 provision for 10 months. Now, excluded from private insurance til the next part of the law, which eliminates excluding people from insurance or charging more because of preexisting conditions, goes into effect in 2013, my options are limited.
Basically, my choices are: pay many, many thousands of dollars every year to stay alive. Or, move to a deserted island and forget about insurance, doctors, scans, chemo, and surgery. And, presumably, not feel well or live long.
I fantasize about this sometimes, because I used to take pride in being on top of my finances, and now my “lifestyle” is so financially unsustainable that I can’t fathom it. I start trying to fix it in my head and it can’t be fixed. Then I inevitably wonderwhat would happen if I didn’t happen to be born into a family who can mostly afford to pay–within reason. Of if I was trying to pay for all of this by myself? I get to live, because i’m lucky (if you can call getting cancer generally being lucky), but a poorer version of myself doesn’t? It doesn’t make sense. And it’s not like I have to only pay for a biopsy and a surgery and a couple rounds of chemo and that’s it. This is chronic. That means, every month, I have to factor in hundreds for prescriptions and doctors appointments and scans. And maybe, if i’m lucky (again, using lucky loosely), I’ll have to shell out a few thousand in a few years for another surgery. My peers will be financing weddings and cars and first homes and babies and i’ll be saving up for a new liver. It’s a good thing I’m an urban planner and I don’t believe in cars or big, detached homes. I do believe in weddings–but not big ones. And babies–but that’s a subject for another post.
I am trying very hard not to sound whiny or political or super hippie or preachy, but I feel I am failing at all attempts. Nevertheless, I will continue.
Is it fair that I rolled the dice and it came up cancer and now i’m saddled with many thousands in medical bills per year for, very likely, the rest of my life? I know I wrote that blog called “You gave yourself cancer” but I think I determined by the end that I didn’t–that I couldn’t have–given myself cancer. Unless it was that one fast food hamburger I ate when I was 10. Or the chlorine in the pool I swam in every day through high school.
Actually, I secretly believe that the way our world is gave me cancer. That our society developed in such a way that is harmful to its citizens. Something I had absolutely no control over. I am studying urban planning now, in part, to work to change that, but I can’t change what I already have or the way our world already is now. The single-use plastic bags, the high-fructose corn syrup, the processed food, the dependence on cars, the subsequent pollution…I could go on for hours. We’re killing our planet and we’re killing me, too. And I have to pay for it.