What’s your first thought when you get sick? What about if you’re injured? Have you ever gone home, instead of to the hospital, because you simply couldn’t afford professional medical attention? If you answered yes to those questions, you have plenty of company. With sky-high co-pays and deductibles, it’s no wonder we often take our health into our own hands.
Granted, if you have the flu or a nasty cold, there’s not much a doctor can do for you anyway, aside from antibiotics, and over-the-counter pain relievers. I rode out many viral infections, because I couldn’t afford to see a doctor. This is true for mostly anyone I know. If we can survive it, there’s no sense in paying for someone to help, right?
“It’s a sad and vicious cycle. We go to work to have money for the things we need. Then, after working, we still can’t afford them.”
Seeing as I can’t speak on behalf of anyone else, I’ll talk about myself. I have a couple of chronic injuries that sometimes impede on my daily life. It’s nothing I can’t handle; I have a herniated disc in my lower back, radiculopathy, and sciatica, and arthritis in most of my joints. I’ve also acquired several broken bones since I was a kid, and those aren’t making anything else better. None of my problems are life-threatening, but they do make day-to-day activities uncomfortable at times. I’ve tried to see a doctor on numerous occasions over the past 8 years. This was after I noticed the pain in my back and shoulder were becoming more intense, despite my at-home treatments.
At 16, I was given the umbrella diagnosis of radiculopathy, which in layman’s terms, means pinched or compressed nerve, somewhere within the spine. The doctor I was seeing at the time was wonderful, and she was committed to helping me find relief. I tried physical therapy, mild pain relievers, and muscle relaxers, but to no avail. I was in and out of her office at least once a month. We both spent downtime doing research, and trying to find alternative treatment methods that would work for me.
She finished her residency at the clinic, and went off to start her own private practice. Then I got the bill. Between therapy, regular office visits, and prescription transfer fees, I racked up nearly $6,000 in debt to the clinic, and their associates. I didn’t have insurance, and didn’t qualify for medicaid, because I was under 18, and on my own.
My Great Grandparent’s insurance didn’t cover me because I wasn’t “direct family,”and neither of my parents had insurance. Once I turned 18, I started teaching martial arts, and was paid under the table. I didn’t qualify for medicaid, because here in Youngstown, Ohio – the welfare system requires recipients to be working at least X amount of hours per week, but no more than Y hours in a month. Due to the fact I wasn’t “legitimately” employed, I couldn’t get assistance.
I started stripping when I was 19, again, not on the books. According to the IRS, I was unemployed, because neither of my employers had me on record. I could’ve gone the route of filing a Form-1099 as an independent contractor, but anyone who’s done that knows how much of a pain in the ass it is. Also, if you file a 1099, you’re paying money out of pocket during tax season in lieu of getting money back on the return. If you’re anything like me, you probably rely on your yearly tax return as part of your survival tactic. There was no way in hell I could afford to pay out of pocket, regardless of how much I claimed in earnings that year. Down the road, I started working full-time. I then tried again to apply for medical assistance, but was denied because I was working too much.
It’s a sad and vicious cycle. We go to work to have money for the things we need. Then, after working, we still can’t afford them. We have two options from there; get a second (or third) job, or seek assistance. Most of us don’t want to have to do either of those. We don’t want food stamps or medicaid, or someone to pay our bills; and we especially don’t want to work our lives away, and miss out on life’s simple pleasures or important events. All we want, is to live comfortably within our means, and take care of what we need.
Unfortunately, we just aren’t granted the same opportunities that were available a decade or more ago. This is not a problem that only affects Millennials either. There are people who are in their 50’s and 60’s, who are looking for work. These are the people who have families, and mortgages and car payments. Companies go bankrupt and shut down, and the people who have worked there for 25 years or more are suddenly out of work. They have to resort to dead-end, minimally paying factory jobs like I did. Maybe some of these people have already retired, but have to go back to work for one reason or another.
Here’s a sad but true story about one of my coworkers, Marcia. She’s in her sixties. She, two of her daughters, and one of her granddaughters work at the same factory as me. Marcia lives in an apartment with one of her daughters, and they’re considering buying a house together in the near future. Marcia also takes care of her mother, who I can only assume is at least 80. Marcia retired several years ago, and was living comfortably between her pension, and help from her daughter.
When her mother’s dementia worsened, Marcia had to go back to work to help pay for her care. Her mother’s insurance only covers part of the expenses, while Marcia covers the rest, in addition to all of her own bills and expenses. Shortly after retiring, Marcia needed a hip replacement. She’s now working a full-time job requiring more physical resilience than she possesses, just so she can afford to care for herself, and her mother.
So many of us can’t afford medical care, because we don’t have insurance; insurance that we can’t afford or don’t qualify for, anyhow. Then to add insult to injury, we get a penalty on our tax return for not having a government-mandated insurance policy. All I want to know is; how and when is this going to end? Why are we constantly being punished for not being able to afford anything?
Underemployment is not laziness. It’s not a lack of a college education. Underemployment is a plague, spreading rampantly through this, and other countries. It prevents good, hard-working people from living the lives they deserve. It prevents us from living within our means, because three low paying jobs between two people, simply doesn’t allow for a $400 a month rent bill, car insurance, and food, let alone regular check-ups and exams.
We’ve done what we needed to do for long enough. It’s your turn, Mr. Democracy.
Riley is a writer, and an epitome of a paradox- You can read her twice monthly, exclusively at The Underemployed Life.
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