Picture of health

Sena Christian is a Sacramento-based freelance writer

This hasn’t exactly been the best year of my life. Unless you call being laid off from a job, losing my health insurance and experiencing an unexpected medical problem fun?

When I found myself suddenly unemployed, I applied for a health-insurance plan with the least expensive premium I could find. It also had a high deductible. Worst-case scenario, I told myself, convinced I wouldn’t really need to tap into it, but realizing it’s better to be prepared.

Sometimes, though, stuff happens beyond our control.

Two months ago, I suffered a severe case of mononucleosis. Mono landed me in the emergency room twice and an overnight stay in the hospital, during which time nurses administered almost a dozen blood tests, several IVs, a CT scan and a sonogram. They also reassured me by saying real positive stuff like, “Um, yeah, we can’t figure out what’s wrong with you.”

Now, all I have to show for this little adventure is $3,500 in medical bills and a dangerously enlarged spleen.

I attempted to get a medical bill reduced by claiming financial hardship but was told, “No, we don’t do that.” My medical provider did, however, put me on a payment plan.

But, come on, I had mono, not exactly the most life-threatening illness in the world. What about all those uninsured or underinsured Americans who suffer from cancer, diabetes, AIDS or another chronic disease? How do they pay for the exorbitant cost of ongoing treatment and care?

I’m one of the lucky ones, fortunate when I lost my job that I didn’t have a family dependent on my employer-based health coverage. I’m lucky I don’t have a house payment, which after an unexpected illness might suddenly become a bit too much to handle.

Close to 50 million Americans are uninsured—or 18 percent of the population under 65 years old. Of those people covered, almost a third are underinsured, meaning they postpone needed medical care because they simply can’t afford the costs. These people often cut down on medications, receive less preventive care and tend to be diagnosed at more advanced stages of disease.

As for me, I’m questioning whether to pay for a doctor’s visit so she can determine if my spleen has shrunk enough so I can safely play soccer again (impact might rupture the spleen and kill me) or if I should go ahead and risk it. Of course I should see my doctor first. But I probably won’t.

I’m pretty annoyed that I owe $550 for two emergency-room visits. I’m upset that more and more employers are not providing health insurance because they can’t afford rising premiums. I’m frustrated that Congress hasn’t yet passed a health-care reform bill that includes a government-supported insurance option, available to everyone and anyone who chooses to participate, something polls show the vast majority of people support.

And, yes, I’m frustrated, along with so many other Americans without secure health coverage, that I am not exactly having the best year of my life.