Obamacare, Hallelujah!

imagesI am on unemployment. I am on Obamacare. The vast majority of my friends and acquaintances probably feel the same way I do about both of those things: I wish I didn’t need them, but goddamn am I glad they’re there.

This, then, is the profile of someone benefitting from government aid.

  1. College graduate
  2. Masters Degrees (2, and yes, I am proud of that)
  3. Former adjunct professor/lecturer/whatever title means they don’t have to give me benefits
  4. Regularly working contractor in the video game industry, with six years experience
  5. No dependents
  6. White chick
  7. Female in her 30s

I’m not fresh out of college. I’m not new to my field. I’m a middle class white girl with all the privileges and disadvantages that go along with that state (middle class & white = privileges, girl = disadvantages). I’ve worked hard, sometimes for little pay, sometimes for good pay.

When I was teaching, I barely made the equivalent of minimum wage. UCI, USC, and Scripps all paid decently–for the field, but it’s not a field that pays well. The junior colleges… I made less than minimum wage between in-class time, office hours, grading, and lesson planning.

My first year in the game industry, I made twice as much as I made in a decent year of teaching. Six years later, I make twice as much as I made my first year in the game industry. Well, when I’m working. I tend to get contracts that last between 3-9 months. And then I get to go back to job hunting, taking on whatever small projects I can find in the meantime. And I go on unemployment.

You’d think, making 4x the money I made teaching, I’d be doing okay financially. But that’s because you don’t realize I went into debt teaching. It’s not a living wage. I’m not the only one. I remember handing in my resignation and saying, “I’m going into debt doing this.” The response? A sad sigh and, “Yeah, that happens.”

I’m also still paying off my school loans, so that’s $300 a month. As a contractor, I have to pay for my own health insurance. Up until recently, that’s meant I shell out $323 a month in premiums, and another $300-$600 for prescriptions (because the deductible is huge and I’m getting screwed). My half of the rent is $1100 a month. Add in utilities, groceries, car insurance, gas, cell phone, bridge tolls… Most months cost me a minimum of $3000, assuming there are no unexpected expenses and I don’t fill all my prescriptions.

So, I squeak by. Living in Silicon Valley isn’t cheap, but I always have a roommate. I cook for myself, almost never eat out, and have almost no luxury expenditures. Not absolutely none, although buying video games should actually count as part of my job. But then something will happen. My car will break down, I’ll get sick, my mom will get sick, my cat will get sick, unemployment will decide via some arcane procedure not to pay me for two months and then admit it’s their fault and still refuse… sorry, got a little bitter there.


Just one of those things happens, and I’m in the red again. Two of those things… and I have to borrow money from my little brother (which is awesome, in that he’s doing well and likes me enough that he would lend me money, but sucky in that… he’s my little brother, I should be helping him out, not him helping me).

Admittedly, spending the money to save the cat… for a lot of people, that’s ridiculous. But even without the cat, I’d be in trouble. Because of the cost of healthcare.

In the 13 years I’ve been working, only five of those years did I have employer sponsored health insurance. Most of that time, I carried my own. Or was on COBRA. Or I was on an ex-bf’s insurance (which was all of seven months; most of the time, he was on my COBRA).

I have chronic health conditions. Don’t get me wrong, on average I’m pretty healthy. But I have celiac disease (yes, fully diagnosed with biopsies and all) and hypopnea (which is like sleep apnea’s younger cousin, but not quite as obnoxious). Which means I need reliable medical care. I need to be able to see my doctor more than once a year. I need DME (durable medical equipment) coverage. I need regular vitamin absorption tests and bone density scans. I need to get my intestine biopsied every few years. Oh, and since my mom has had breast cancer, I should also be getting regular mammograms. Oh, and don’t forget the sleep studies! Between the hypopnea and a fatal sleep condition running in the family, this matters.

A sleep study can cost as little as $1k out of pocket (yes, that’s the cheap price) but usually will cost upwards of $2k. Then there’s the DME, which is a few hundred a month (depending on which equipment you’re using). I don’t even know the cost of the bone density scan or vitamin absorption tests, just that my insurance insisted I get the biopsy before they’d be willing to pay for either.

I can’t afford to be without health insurance. For the last year, I was paying the aforementioned $323 a month for a crappy health plan that barely covered anything. I was paying $300-$600 a month for prescriptions. The $300 months were when I skipped filling two prescriptions. Don’t tell my doctor. I was paying my therapist out of pocket because my health insurance refused to cover her. My insurance co-pay to see a psychiatrist–$273 per appointment–was higher than the out-of-pocket cost of seeing that same psychiatrist (did I mention it was a craptastic plan? it was a craptastic plan). I skipped the DME entirely for that whole year, instead making do on out of date supplies and hacking things together when I needed to.

On Obamacare? On one of their most expensive plans, that is way, way better than my old craptastic plan? I’m paying about $243 a month. And they cover my therapist. And I have a $10 co-pay for prescriptions. A $15 co-pay to see a psychiatrist. Let’s do the math here:

In a month in which I fill all my prescriptions, see my therapist, and see my psychiatrist (who I do not actually see every month), pre-Obamacare I would have spent $1756. With Obamacare I’m spending $518. That’s a $1238 difference. I’m spending less than 1/3 of what I did before.

Look at that $518, and don’t tell me I’m getting free healthcare. That ain’t free. That’s still a hefty chunk of change. But it’s a lot more doable. Again, for comparison’s sake, let’s show that info in a different form:

Pre-Obamacare = $1756

Post-Obamacare = $518

Difference = $1238

I’m not coasting along on handouts from the government. I’m not living big at the tax-payers’ expense. I’m working my ass off and being as frugal as I can while living in a high-cost city and dealing with chronic medical conditions. I am also paying my taxes without complaint when I have work, because I’m cool with my money helping to pay for unemployment, health care, ambulances, cops, firefighters, and roads.

So, hi. My name is Diana, and I’m on Obamacare.