The View From Your Sickbed

by Patrick Appel

A reader writes:

When I was a teenager, I suffered from some issues that many teenagers do, particularly depression, anxiety and a related eating disorder. I struggled greatly for about two years and was hospitalized for approximately one month to help me stabilize my weight. Seven years later, I am an extremely happy, successful and healthy young lady living an extremely vibrant life. I am no longer on any medication, have a curvy body that I love at the higher end of "normal"  in the BMI index, and receive clean bills of health at yearly physicals. Combined with moderate regular exercise, no smoking, moderate social drinking, no other medication use, and being in my early 20s, I would venture to guess I would normally be an ideal candidate for an insurance company.

Unfortunately, some time ago, I learned that my month in a hospital seven years ago rendered me wholly undesirable to any private insurance providers in my state. I worked full-time in offices for a few years following my college graduation, but invested myself in creative pursuits on the side, starting my own business. My business eventually became so successful that it became obvious that I would need to quit my job to dedicate time to my passion and my clients. I knew when I quit that it would be unlikely for me to find private insurance, but I held out hope. After investigating numerous leads and working with many agents that friends and doctors claimed could possibly "work some magic," it became obvious that no one would insure me. Instead I was forced to either go without insurance as many of my other creative friends do, or pay over $800 a month in COBRA premiums.

I am incredibly fortunate to own a very successful business that allows me to afford the COBRA premiums, so I decided to purchase the coverage, despite almost never using insurance (one dentist visit a year, one physical, one gynecological visit per year, generally). I know many people in my position would probably go without coverage, but the prospect of one random car accident or an unexpected health issue being so financially devastating that it could easily wipe out my personal and business reserves in one fell swoop is too horrifying to take that risk. I would love to add another part-time employee to my business, which the $800 a month would be close to covering, but given that the money goes to insurance, I am unable to do so. Over $800 a month is a staggering sum, especially for a healthy, 20-something woman to be paying for coverage she doesn't even use.  But that said, I have the ability to pay a very high premium if needed for the time being, but no one will even offer a plan -- even a bare-bones plan -- to me, for any price.

I have been told that once the 10-year anniversary of my hospitalization passes, I will probably have better luck in securing private coverage. However, I still will have about 2 years to find coverage after my COBRA expires, and I'm unsure what I will do.

I am also deeply saddened by the current state of the system, because, as your other readers have said, it creates fear of using the health care available to us, either for cost or for "pre-existing condition" concerns. I am now terrified every time I visit the doctor, scared that something else might pop up that might ruin my "10-year plan" for staying healthy until my hospital anniversary. In addition, it infuriates me that receiving vital, necessary, and in my case, life-saving treatment for issues as commonplace in young teenagers as depression, anxiety and eating disorders can create such intense financial and emotional stress for young women and men well into adulthood. Had I not had that brief hospitalization (which, even with my parents' insurance, was an enormous financial stress), it was likely that I would have died, but in the terrible double-edged sword twist, that life-saving coverage consequently put a $10K/year financial burden on me as a healthy and successful adult for the time being, and an uncertain health care future ahead of me for the next few years.