Philadelphia Metropolis



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By Connie BriggsStethoscope.jpg

After six-and-a-half years, the final straw fell at a meeting the night before. Everyone saw what happened, but few noticed anything unusual. But that was it for me, without going into details, I decided it was time to go. I think I did a great job there. I will miss my colleagues. Time will tell whether I was the difficult person, or my boss was the difficult person (and I was an angel to put up with her), or that both are true. I resigned the next day. It has been about a month. And I sleep so much better now.

Good sleep may be short-lived, however, because I need money for health insurance, having had a pre-existing condition since I was 10. On Tuesday, February 22, 1972, on my way to my violin lesson, I tripped and pulled my hip joint off of my femur. Since then, I have had hip problems. Somehow I need to raise $532 per month for my insurer who keeps reminding me that I am so lucky that it will bother to cover me with this pre-existing condition and that these high premiums are necessary. But I paid their premiums during my health and youth, when many twenty-somethings don't think about health insurance.

By 1988, I had finally put off bilateral hip replacements long enough. My new hip-joints sealed my fate: from then on, I would be forever labeled as someone with a pre-existing condition. No more reasonably-priced insurance for me, ever again. Only one expensive health insurance plan will take my money. And when I turned 50, my premium went up from $330 to $532 a month -- a 67 percent increase -- with a $5,000 deductible.

I am a cornered animal. Don't mess with a cornered animal.

Health insurers don't like pre-existing conditions like age or children or bad hips. Health care costs them money. Insurers prefer to cover only people who are young and healthy, who don't need health care. But when the plastic and glue wear out in my bionic joints, I will have to get them fixed, or not. If I didn't have a family, I would not bother with insurance, because if I do get my hips fixed, I can't afford to see a doctor until the $5,000 deductible is met anyway. But other bad things could happen in unpredictable life, so I continue to pay the ridiculous premiums. Think of it as catastrophic insurance, for $6,500 per year. And each year they are allowed to increase my premiums 9.9%. So next year, it may be $7,150. How can a nonprofit ask for a rate increase when it made $211 million in profits, and in 2010 actually had lower medical claims liabilities than in 2009?

It is difficult to find a job right now. I have worked in an office environment much of my life. However, in college, I had several summer gardening jobs at the Zoo, at college, and a country-club. Now that I am 50 and out-of-work, I wanted to see if I could revisit gardening. I put a sign up on my lawn on my busy street. I got a call. The job site was nearby. The yard bordered vacant land, covered with vines, native trees, thorny bushes, trash and maybe hidden bodies. This neighboring jungle had spread 30 feet into their yard, onto their phone lines, staking a claim to the sky overhead. My assignment was to clear out the vines and the ground in a 30-by-20 foot area. I took the job and started on a Monday in March. By the end of two weeks I had filled 25 bags with leaves, vines and trash.

The rash did not start up until the first Thursday. Then my arms were covered with itchy raised bumps. It was poison ivy. My arms swelled and it was terrible for two weeks -- itchy, red, painful. I could not afford to go to the doctor, but I finished the job. I made enough money to pay for two weeks of insurance coverage. I also learned that I have more physical gumption than I had thought.

As I search for employment, I measure salaries not in dollars, but in time it takes to pay my insurance premium. A salary of $10,000 would allow me to pay just my premium. If I made $30,000, one third of my working time would be needed to pay my premium.

What does a cornered animal do? I am not a violent person. But I am righteous and really, really mad. It is time to make a stink.


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