On December 9, 2016, at around 1 p.m. in the afternoon, I got married. In one of Savannah’s seventeen squares, very near the courthouse where we had just gotten our license fifteen minutes earlier. A woman I had never met performed a simple ceremony. I wore a black suede boot on one foot and a grey Star Wars boot on the other and I leaned on a cane as I had had foot surgery a month before. Election Day. I had the surgery because I had just met my large deductible and I had been in pain for years. I thought, too, that even if the Democrats didn’t win back Congress, Hillary Clinton wouldn’t allow repeal of the ACA. I had had a very busy year. I could be out of commission for a little while. We wore coats. It was cold. Kids skateboarded raucously around us.
I married so that I could have affordable health insurance. At the time I had no idea that I was protecting myself from losing coverage completely and being, once again, completely uninsurable.
When I moved to Savannah in 2011 I naively thought I could keep the health insurance I had had for 27 years in Virginia. When my first husband and I divorced he kept me on his policy for three years and then after those three years the policy easily transferred to me. I was a freelance writer (and still am) with no company plan. At the time of the initial transfer which I kept for 7 years, I was taking two medications. When I tried to transfer that policy upon my move to Georgia, I was told I would have to be underwritten again. At this point, several conditions had reared their head, I had had two surgeries, and I was taking five different meds.
One by one, six health insurance companies refused to cover me.
My boyfriend offered to marry me. I demurred. We had only been together a year and a half and still lived in different cities. I had been married. I wasn’t eager to do it again. I “illegally” pretended I still lived in Virginia and used my old address for a couple of months. I then, also illegally, switched it to my boyfriend’s Virginia house. This was all to keep coverage until I could get new.
On the advice of a wise friend I spoke with several insurance brokers who told me I was indeed uninsurable. It was added that one chance I had was to go off insurance completely for at least six months and then I could apply for a hardship policy as someone with a pre-existing condition. That terrified me. What if I was in an accident during those six months? Got cancer? Had to have more surgery? How would I pay for my meds.
Finally a broker found me a private policy that was more than twice what I had paid in Virginia, had a huge deductible and did not cover an essential medication. I took it. The New York Times interviewed me about the cost of my meds after reading about my health insurance nightmare in the Huffington Post. The new broker said she could help me only if I immediately stopped searching for coverage. “Being turned down that many times is a red flag,” she said.
Although the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2010, many of its provisions were only slowly introduced and full effectiveness did not happen until years later. But I finally had coverage. I bought my broker flowers.
Each year my policy went up in cost and down in coverage—and each year my broker helped me choose a plan I could afford– until this past October when I was told that the company was leaving Georgia altogether. As of January 1 I would to change to a new policy. There is only one insurer left in the state as Georgia did not take federal monies for health care exchanges. It was more than twice what I had paid last year and still left me buying my more expensive meds out of pocket, not to mention that after years I realized they worked less well than a substitute for me.
When the broker took a look at my boyfriend’s excellent government policy and the only one she could offer me. She said: “This is really good insurance. Marry him. It’s just a piece of paper.”
I had no idea at the time that the Republican Congress, gleefully pushed by President-elect Donald Trump would do everything in their power to makes sure I had NO chance of insurance by repealing the ACA altogether. I might not even be able to buy the terrible unaffordable policy.
I was lucky in ways many people are not. I had a steady relationship, now for more than six years. My boyfriend had moved to Savannah where we had lived apart for three years before buying a house together in June. Sure, we talked about marriage, but neither of us thought it necessary. Instead, to protect ourselves as an unmarried couple we had a lawyer draw up contracts. Although, I see him as my life partner I did not want to be rushed into a rush ceremony on his half day off, in the cold, without friends or family . Yet there seemed little choice. If I did not marry before the middle of December I would miss getting on his policy starting January 1. Now, as a married woman, rather than a freelance writer, I can take the meds I have needed for the past 4 years, instead of poor substitutions. I can have my other foot surgery done this year. I am covered if something catastrophic happens. Without forking out thousands to meet a deductible. It’s grossly unfair and I am preternaturally grateful.
But here’s the rub. I have a 23-year old daughter who is insured under her father’s policy. She needs therapy and meds for a severe anxiety disorder. Soon she may also be uninsurable and uncovered. We will all have to figure that out next.
Lisa Solod is an essayist and fiction writer who writes for the Huffington Post and blogs at middleagedfeminist.com. She is the author/editor of Desire: Women Write About Wanting. and a contributor to the anthology Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox. Her website is lisasolod.com. Follow her on Twitter at @lisasolod.