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Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Affordable Healthcare

Years ago, I left a violent marriage in Colorado and returned to Iowa to start a new life. My health insurance was good until the end of the August, and coverage at my new job wouldn’t take effect until October. That’s the way things are, I was told. You’ll be fine.

Traveling across I-80, I joked to my kids, “If you’re going to get sick, do it now!” I had five days of insurance left, and just enough money for the move. Napping in the car, they awoke with eyes matted shut. A Nebraska clinic diagnosed pinkeye, and I administered the prescribed ointment at every rest stop. Close call.

A year later, I needed major dental work. The repairs would drain the annual maximum allowed by my dental insurance. Luckily, it was December, so my dentist – kindly, brilliantly – scheduled my upper teeth for the end of the year, and the lowers for early January, effectively doubling my coverage.

I took for granted my employer-provided insurance, which improved when I began working as a hospital librarian. But when a slow-healing broken foot prevented me from returning to work on my boss’s timeline, the job was outsourced, and I was on my own.

Two government programs came to my rescue. COBRA let me continue my insurance. The premiums doubled, but they were a bargain compared to Iowa’s limited Obamacare. I then applied for Social Security Disability for chronic migraines that have plagued me for over a decade, a long shot at best. Miraculously, it was approved. The monthly payments fall short of what I would have received had I worked to age 66, and are just half of what I’d earned at my job. Now I count the days until I qualify for one more federal program, Medicare, and can drop the COBRA bill.

Seven years ago, my search for a migraine cure landed me at a top headache clinic far from home. I spent an unprecedented eighteen days in their hospital’s Head and Neck Pain Unit. I could say that the care I received was “priceless,” but of course it was not. It was affordable because I was employed full-time at a hospital in the same network. We’re told we have an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I will never understand how any of these can be achieved without decent healthcare for all.

Pamela Kress-Dunn
Dubuque, Iowa


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