Our children have no health care. Just saying it out loud brings on the fear and shame.
When my husband’s entire department was laid off a couple of years ago and he became self-employed, we began getting coverage with the help of a state assistance program. That program dropped us recently because he’s been working for a new company for half a year now. Yes, when he was hired, I should have been on top of it and known they would do this before his next open enrollment came around in October. But the job was new, times were highly uncertain and I was very happy to finish out 2010 with my family covered.
Now, I berate myself for letting this happen. I should have checked when our pre-paid term was up with the program we had, but it fell through the cracks that deepen when two small children come into your life. So now we’re waiting for my husband’s work to help us get on their plan, outside of open enrollment month. We’re grateful for that much. But we all know how slow these things go.
The feeling of being a mother with unprotected children is enraging. As my daughters and I watch sparrows build multiple nests around our yard and enjoy springtime walks, we know to be more cautious with Mother Nature right now. Nothing is more dangerous than a mama trying to protect her babies.
Luckily, I haven’t had to bare my teeth too much in this period of being unprotected. But the free falling, exposed feeling that something big might happen is bad enough.
Recently, both girls were sick with really nasty colds. I don’t often take my kids to the doctor for what seems like such a run-of-the-mill virus. But this time, I knew it would take even more to get me to make the appointment. The cost for the last visit, when the letter stating we weren’t covered was still sitting in a pile of mail, was $120.
Then, when my 17-month-old spiked a fever after already having had the cold for days without one, I felt compelled to take her in. What if she had strep or an ear infection? Of course, we made the appointment. But I will say that we thought real hard about whether or not we needed to.
Later, the doc told me my hunch was right—the fever was the mark of a secondary infection showing up. In this case it was a raging ear infection (a first for either of my kids). When she told me this, I actually teared up with a mixture of relief at being right, empathy for the baby and the overall anxiety of it all.
I told my pediatrician we were paying out of pocket and she was amazing. I know she was very monetarily cautious during the visit, only performing what my baby absolutely needed. She even had a few antibiotic samples to give out, which was a true lifesaver because this was not an infection I wanted to wait and see on. I’m so grateful she understood and didn’t judge, even though I guessed that her own little boy had never been in insurance free fall, like my kids are now.
I can only imagine what this kind of experience is like for those with seriously ill children or other loved ones, those who can't afford coverage and have no option for employer benefits. How many life or death choices have been made by people with little or no medical coverage at all?
Our country is too great for this and I deeply regret that we are the only industrialized nation without a universal health care system to protect those left exposed. The idea that someone I love could get less than the care they need because of money is intolerable to me. I have no answers here, only one story about a baby with a cold and sore ears.
Our coverage with my husband's work should come through by the time this is published. It’ll take an even heftier chunk out of his paycheck than before, but I’ll leave that worry for a few weeks when bill-paying time comes around.
What I will do is make my daughter's 18-month checkup appointment immediately. It’ll be a relief to know I can finally ask all those questions that have built up since the last one a few months ago—the little bumps and quirks we parents so often want a doctor to check.
I'll have gotten off easier than most in my position, I think. But this experience has scared me enough to become even more vigilant that it never happen to us again. I deeply hope that something changes in this country, and we can better tend to the health care of our entire nation, which needs this to stay strong.
And I hope that when they become mothers themselves some day, my daughters and their peers will remember this insurance free fall worry as one of a bygone era.