After Growing Up Without Health Insurance, "Relieved" by the Supreme Court Health Reform Ruling

Jul 25, 2012, 8:15 AM

This is part of a series in which Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, grantees and alumni offer perspectives on the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Affordable Care Act. Michelle Scott recently graduated from Rowan University and is an intern at RWJF, working with The Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action.

I’m 22 and uninsured. I’ve only had health insurance for the four years I went to college, and now that I’ve just graduated, I no longer have that luxury. I survived the first 18 years of my life without it, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, I don’t have to live without it for the rest of my life.

The day I received my college health insurance card in the mail, that flimsy piece of laminated paper with my name on it, I vividly remember thinking, “Wow. I’m allowed to be sick.” During my time at college I never got sick, nor injured in a serious accident of any kind where I actually needed medical attention. There was a brief period where I thought I smashed my hip and orbital bone in a skateboard incident my senior year of college, but after sitting on the ground at the skate park for a minute, and contemplating whether my family could afford to patch me up, I decided to walk it off. From my very early childhood, that’s how I learned to treat any kind of issue: Walk it off, or rest up until you can walk it off.

I was not a frequently ill child, if you don’t count the number of times I had pink eye or ear infections, or severe cases of the flu every year. I had the pneumonia when I was four or five, but that wasn’t something my mom, who was a nurse’s aide (and as such didn’t qualify for company health insurance), couldn’t treat with some cold water on a rag padded across my warm forehead and some nibbles on saltine crackers every now and then.

I vaguely remember being in a doctor’s office for strep throat when I was eight, but I only went in because my sister was being checked out at the time for it, and my mom thought it would be a good idea to get me checked out, as well. What I remember very specifically from that day is my mom arguing with the receptionist not to charge her for two separate visits for both my sister and me. The doctor only told me to say, “Aaaaaahhh” and she knew right away I had strep, too. But the office charged us anyway, and I remember feeling guilty for being sick because it cost my mom money, money we just didn’t have. I resented the doctor’s office ever since, and I became one tough patient to care for.
Like a lot of people without insurance, my family and I learned to cope and we were lucky that we didn’t need urgent or continuous care.  I know that for some people with serious illnesses, going without health insurance can be much more problematic or even a matter of life and death.  With the Supreme Court ruling that the new health care law can go forward, I am relieved that I’ll be able to get care if I am sick or hurt – and I won’t have to hide it or walk it off.  I can now get the care I need when I need it, and not feel guilty about the cost to my family. It still sounds strange to even say that to myself, that I will get care, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, it’s something I can get used to.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.