By definition, insurance serves the role of risk management, where one person pays a relatively small monetary sum to a healthcare provider in the case of unforeseen circumstances or emergencies. Though rewarding at times, life’s unpredictability can also be unfair and cruel. No one chooses to become sick or injured. When they do, however, insurance is there to minimize and alleviate the financial risk one could otherwise incur. But for me this is not what comes to mind when asked to answer the question, “What does insurance mean to you?” When I think about insurance, I remember the moments of my mother with her phone glued to her ear, relentlessly calling medical office after medical office to try and find a physician who would take her medical card. It brings to mind the years my mother didn’t see a doctor because she lacked any type of insurance. I see my mother bound with invisible shackles, living a life absent of the complete well-being to which all individuals should be entitled.
In the years following my parents divorce, I watched my parents’ lives unfolded, revealing stark differences. This situation gave birth to two perspectives: a male and a female, one of financial stability and one without, and the impact of life with insurance and of life without. While my dad has enjoyed a relatively comfortable life, my mother’s life has been plagued with struggle. Not having furthered her education beyond high school, job opportunities have always been lacking. As a single parent, she often had to keep multiple jobs just to meet the bare minimum, causing her to miss sporting events, awards ceremonies, and parent-teacher conferences. These types of jobs typically did not provide her with health insurance benefits and when there was an option for insurance, often times the cost was often too high. It was virtually impossible for her to sacrifice a week’s pay or more for medical insurance when she had four children, a mortgage, and school tuition to pay for. My sisters and I were lucky; we were covered under our father’s policy. My mother, on the other hand, was on her own. After she lost her job, she was without insurance for almost three years. Those were by far the hardest years of our lives. I watched my mother’s health and good spirit deteriorate. She avoided medical checkups and neglected her physical and mental health. She felt ashamed using her food stamps and visiting local food pantries. She was emotionally distraught, knowing fully well that she could never afford the surgeries she desperately needed.
When my mother became eligible for free governmental health insurance, it seemed like our prayers were being answered. To our dismay, however, the outcome has been quite the contrary. Firstly, many doctors refused to take the insurance. Additionally, even when the insurance was accepted, offices were considerable distances from our home. Worst of all, my mother felt she was not treated with the same degree of dignity and respect. She was often unable to get the surgeries she needed. Even when she was able to have medical treatment, doctors would perform partial procedures, which only served to exacerbate her medical issues.
Insurance is more than a saving money or managing risk. A lack of insurance is a serious impediment to the attainment of total well-being something I have come to understand through my mother. When asked to respond to the question, “What does insurance mean to you?” one word came to mind: freedom. The freedom to take care of myself physically, mentally, and socially. It means the ability to undergo sudden procedures without the fear of not being able to afford them. Insurance allows me the ease to go to my doctor’s office for the major medical treatment but more importantly for preventative health services and care. Adequate health insurance would allow my mother to have the necessary podiatry procedures to walk without pain and to schedule an eye exam to purchase a pair of glasses she should have been wearing for years. It would mean not needing to skip reproductive health checkups due to out-of-pocket costs. With private medical insurance, my mother would live a life with a freedom from debilitating stigma. In other words, insurance means my mother living a long and healthy life in all regards and receiving the quality care to which she should be entitled.
Health insurance acts as a pathway to better health access; however, insurance programs remain too narrow in scope. In order to bridge this gap, insurance coverage must be expanded and insurance benefits should be expanded to promote health equity for all not just those who can afford these programs or those who qualify for government-sponsored programs. Health expenditure in the United States is the highest in the world; however, there appears to be a mismatch between health expenditure and health outcomes. Perhaps this is because insurance does not, in fact, represent freedom. Insurance continues to be unattainable for a sizable number of people, increasing in the past 5 years as employer-sponsored insurance programs have been cut. While governmental insurance programs help to bridge this gap, it does not seem to go far enough. While it covers the nation’s poorest and most marginalized peoples, it fails to cover those just above the cutoff. As it stands, insurance does not equate to freedom for all. All Americans deserve the right to be free from potentially debilitating medical conditions and egregious health fees. We all deserve the freedom to live a healthy life. But we cannot satisfy these freedoms without insurance. Pursuing a degree in public health, I hope to join in the fight for health equity, which can be achieved through initiatives to expand health insurance programs and coverage. My mother has demonstrated indirectly the value of insurance; I want to fight for her and for the millions of mothers, fathers, and children just like her. Insurance will give me the freedom I need and I am determined to ensure that it will do the same for all inhabitants of the United States.
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