In 2008, I finished my master’s degree and graduated from the University of Oregon, and my health insurance was terminated.
James and I moved to NYC shortly after, and he began graduate studies at Columbia. Full coverage is offered to graduate students, and we were perhaps naively counting on an affordable coverage plan for spouses. Affordable? Does $500 extra per month sound affordable? That plan fell through.
Settling into city life and (a) new job(s) took priority. Originally, as a Suzuki violin and viola teacher, I was looking for a school or arts program that would hire me close to full time and provide benefits. Oh, that’s not the way it works in NYC? Not wanting to be a public school music teacher, I had to take part-time jobs at several different music programs. Hire more teachers for shorter hours and avoid paying benefits. Traveling all over the city–3 days a week in the Bronx, 2 days a week Upper East Side, 1 day in Tribeca, and any “day off” spent teaching privately from home–I was considered self-employed and a freelancer.
A freelancer? Those ads on the subway sporting an old fashioned beehive and advertising health benefits to the city’s self-employed caught my attention. I researched the Freelancer’s Union and was excited to become a member. My situation however, was unique (isn’t everyone’s?). Employed by about 10 different people and organizations, and with unstable workweeks, I was having difficulties proving that I made enough money and worked enough hours to qualify for benefits. Each time James got someone from the union on the phone, it was a different story, we needed to fill out another form, get another signature, find pay stubs that did not exist. We gave up.
The next step was looking into an organization called Healthy NY for small businesses and working individuals. I definitely qualified as a working individual. However, our gross monthly income needed to be below a certain amount, combined. Yes we are married, yes we combine our bank accounts and income, but the problem is, James was already insured. I needed my own individual insurance, and individually I was making less than the required amount. With the Freelancers I had to prove I was making enough money and with Healthy NY I had to prove that I was not making too much money. The gap in between had claimed another victim. Does everyone fall into this gap? Seems like it.
Finally, as a member of The Suzuki Association of the Americas, I researched their member benefit options. Health insurance is offered through The Entertainment Industry Trust, and is almost as much as it would have cost to buy into James’ health plan. Impossible.
There are only so many options for health insurance in New York City that are affordable. I seemed qualify for none of them. The last resort was an Emergency Care plan. Preventative care was proving too expensive, so this $150 per month plan would cover emergency medical needs. We contacted health care providers and filled out some online quote forms using eHealthInsurance. (Do not do this. After all of my information was entered, I am receiving daily, incessant phone calls from various health insurers in the area. Of course, they all claim to be offering the best plan for me, and please call back at your earliest convenience to discuss further options.) However, after mailing the paperwork for emergency coverage, we were notified that I did not qualify because hypothetically I could be covered under James’ health provider. We were moving in circles, making no progress, and finally conceded defeat. Health insurance options are fixed by law, so my list had run out.
Natural and cheap preventative care was my only option. Healthy diet and exercise. Avoid injuries and potentially dangerous situations. Obsessive hand washing after a day of working with small children and a daily dose of echinacea. I have had a lucky year, and need to make it 1.5 more weeks until health insurance from my new job kicks in.
New job. Imagine running all over the city, all day every day. Hours spent on buses, subways, walking with two instruments and a bag full of teaching supplies. Sweating in the heat, bracing against cold winds, slipping on ice, juggling an umbrella, always in a rush. Worrying about health, worrying about money, canceled lessons, too many lessons, vacations and summers with almost no pay. Burn out was inevitable. I am surprised that my mental health was able to hang in there. For many people, the reward of teaching is enough to keep them going through all of the trials. Teaching is something that I am good at. The actual act of teaching is easy for me, something expected. But, that does not mean that I love it. This year was a learning experience, and after months of self-reflection, I decided on a major career shift. What was desired: a regular old “9-5” job within the field of music and arts, consistency, a career that would move me toward my goal of eventually going back to school for musicology (basically music history) or library science. What was available: exactly what I needed. Senior Circulation Administrator in a major performing arts library.
So far, the health plan offered looks fantastic. A former acupuncture patient, I was happy to see at least some coverage for alternative medicine. There is a $200 incentive for members to join a gym and prove attendance of at least 50 times in 6 months. The provider includes discounts on gym memberships, trips to the spa, natural and organic products, magazines, and other services. Compared to nothing, this sounds great. Today and tomorrow I will be researching doctors and dentists that are in network and selecting a primary care provider. After the first of September, I’ll have one less thing to worry about.
That is my health care story. Do you have a story or comment to share?
Next up–the current state of health care.