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I Can't Afford My Healthcare, and Yes, I Have an iPhone

Recently Representative Jason Chaffetz was confronted on CNN about the difference between having health insurance and having “access” to health insurance. As Chaffetz applauded the newly revealed Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act, he said in response:

“So maybe, rather than getting that new iPhone that they just love and want to go spend hundreds of dollars on that, maybe they should invest in their own healthcare.”

It’s a flippant stereotype I’ve heard time and time again — the idea that people who can’t afford their medical care don’t know how to live within their means. I’ve had friends and family who posted things during the election like, “Obamacare is socialism! Get a job and pay for your doctor’s bills like the rest of us!”

For what it’s worth, my husband and I don’t qualify for any subsidies, and we do pay for all our own healthcare. In fact, my husband’s healthcare plan from work was so poor and had such a high deductible that we had to purchase a private marketplace plan just to get access to ongoing and consistent care for my chronic health issues. But even with my husband’s decent salary, our healthcare bills have become so enormous that we’re looking at the stark reality of selling our home this summer because we simply cannot afford to keep our house and pay our medical bills. It’s worth noting that we bought this home less than three years ago when we made the difficult decision to move out of state — leaving our family and everyone we knew — in an attempt to lower out cost of living. Even that radical step hasn’t been enough to offset the enormous weight of my medical bills.

In the past three months we’ve spent over $9,100 on my medical care – and that’s while going without a number of recommended treatments and therapies because we simply can’t afford them. The reality of having a chronic health condition like Lyme disease is that I will very likely require expensive and ongoing care for the rest of my life. In fact, according to Lyme Stats, the average annual, out-of-pocket cost for a Lyme disease patient in this country is $53,000, not including insurance premiums. That’s not including the additional costs of other issues caused by my Lyme: worsening eyesight requiring regular changes in prescription lenses, expensive seizure medications, cardiologist’s care (Lyme has damaged my heart), physical therapy for arthritis-related issues, psychiatric care/medications (the neurological damage causes issues for me with anxiety and fatigue) and more. Add to that the costs of regular illnesses and preventative care, and that’s only the costs for me – there are three other people in my family as well, one who has autism and ADD and needs his own therapies and medication.

For the record, I actually do have a shiny new iPhone. It costs me around $25 a month. I didn’t actually want a brand new phone. When my last phone died my carrier told me they couldn’t offer me a repair on the old model but they could give me a brand new phone. They offered a low-cost installment plan with no cost to me up front with a monthly bill almost identical to the one I walked in with. Obviously I walked out with the new phone.

Let’s say theoretically I had declined the new iPhone they offered me, and had opted to go with a cheap flip phone instead to save that $25 a month and “invest it into my healthcare.” What exactly would that $25 a month have covered? Or lets look at the total one-time-value of the phone, somewhere around $600. It doesn’t even cover one month of my insurance premium, let alone any of my out-of-pocket costs, and then its gone and I’m still needing to come up with thousands of dollars each month for my care. Is there some benefit to this idea that I’m not seeing? Or is it just the idea that people who need a little extra help — be it with medical bills or unemployment or food stamps — should never have anything other than the bare minimum?

The reality is, my husband and I have sacrificed left and right for my healthcare costs. We have been on exactly one vacation in our eight years of marriage – our honeymoon, and only because that was a wedding gift generously paid for by my parents. We spent five years living in a low-income neighborhood and had to go without in order to make our budget work. My kids can’t participate in extracurricular activities. My younger son can’t go to preschool. We can’t afford to hire help with childcare or housework during times when I’m effectively bedridden. It feels as if we give up so much each and every day, yet it’s still not enough. We are exhausted, stressed out, and working our tails off to do everything in our power to “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps,” and it’s simply not possible. The system feels rigged against us, and we always comes up short. Plus we have the constant, ongoing stress, without any chance to rest and recuperate from it all. It doesn’t exactly help with fighting chronic health conditions.

And yet, we feel far more privileged than most. There are people making less than my husband, facing bigger medical bills, and in some cases facing the very real possibility of death because they can’t afford life-saving treatments. We don’t forget there are people who have more struggles than we do.

It’s discouraging to see those of us struggling with overwhelming medical bills be written off as bad budgeters, lazy moochers looking for handouts, or worse yet, as acceptable collateral damage in order to lower the healthcare costs of others. I didn’t choose to have these chronic health conditions, and believe me when I say I would gladly trade them for a full-time job and feeling like I am seen as a valuable member of society. But how can those of us with chronic health conditions do that if the cost of treatment is out of reach? How can we ever hope to improve our health and return to a productive society if we are denied a way to pay for our therapies and medications, let alone a chance to rest and recover without the stress of these medical bills? And if we don’t recover and need care for the rest of our lives, does that mean we shouldn’t ever be allowed anything more than a bare minimum – or worse yet, should we just be discarded entirely? Are we not allowed to own an iPhone, or go out to anniversary dinners or go to the beach for a weekend because we couldn’t afford the tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills thrown our way? Is our value attached to how much money we have?

Mr. Chaffetz should rethink his callous and careless words – and then rethink his stance on healthcare. For many, our lives and our livelihood depend on it.

Editor’s note: This story reflects an individual’s experience and is not an endorsement from The Mighty. We believe in sharing a variety of perspectives from our community.

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