People are amazed when I tell them that I don’t have health insurance. I stopped buying it in 2010 when it became unaffordable. My rates went up. Again. I hadn’t been sick or used the insurance much, but the provider boosted my monthly bill 25 bucks anyway.
Health insurance for a small business owner/sole proprietor like me is costly, especially in New Jersey where we’re not allowed to form a professional association to get group rates, unlike in Pennsylvania or New York. Still, I get how important health insurance is. Preventative care maintains health—studies have shown that those who get it are healthier overall—which makes the ability to pay for it critical to leading a sustainable life.
There are alternatives, however.
On my journey toward a low-cost, sustainable lifestyle, which started back in 2009 when my finances changed, I discovered one of them: hospital assistance. It’s a state-run program in New Jersey. You have to apply for it through a scheduled appointment with a program-approved doctor. Once approved, your bills for services provided by doctors within the hospital assistance network are covered for the next year up to a percentage that correlates to how much money you make in relationship to the federal poverty rate.
The first time I went to Hunterdon Medical Center to file my application, I felt really undeserving because I’m well educated and I work full-time. I convinced myself that Betty Eng, the point person, was going to take one look at my application, see I was a college professor with a master’s, purse her lips and declare me ineligible before everyone within loud-talking distance. But she didn’t. Instead, her eyes slalomed through my paperwork while she made breezy conversation.
So, does this cover dental? I wonder out loud.
Eng’s face lights up like she’s sitting on some luscious gossip and I just indicated that I was a willing and worthy confidant.
“Oh, no,” Eng says. “But let me tell you, if I ever win the lottery, I would make a plan just like this for dental for everybody.” At that moment I could tell this woman’s heart was in her work, and it was a generous one. She understands how important it is that we care for each other.
The first year I received hospital assistance, my income was so low that my doctor visits were completely covered. Over the last two years, as I slowly rebuilt my savings and increased my earnings, that’s changed. My stability growing, I even started feeling around a few months ago for a health insurance plan. I investigated self-pay rates through one of my employers and directly through a few insurance companies. The results were disheartening. I’d need to ante up $200 more per month than I would have had to pay in 2010 before I opted out.
Eng’s cubicle is covered with lots of portals to her life—warm family photos, affirmative quotes—but there’s one that’s always stuck with me. It’s a magnet that reads:
It doesn’t matter what happened to you.
It matters what you do with what happened to you.
That can apply to many situations in life, but it could just as easily be a motto for the power of public assistance. Having my medical bills covered has been an integral part of my new sustainable lifestyle. I’m healthy and I’m not burdened with a monthly bill that’s constantly out of my reach, which means that I can work within my community at lower rates and teach part-time. And unlike the relentless cycle that health insurance has become, hospital assistance has provided me with a means to an end. I’m saving more money and gradually phasing out of the program.
Category: Sustainable Living