Single Women and Health Insurance: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

By Tracy Morris

Health insurance. Two words that have plagued me throughout my adult life in various ways. I’m not alone. Nearly 47 million Americans have no health insurance. It is estimated that of that huge swath of humanity, at any given time, around 18% are women who have zero, zip, nada coverage for anything that could go wrong with their body or their mind, be it an ingrown toenail or a terminal illness.

pic1Why has insurance been a personal plague, you ask? 

Can you say, “emergency appendectomy”? 

Some of you know just what I’m talking about: it only takes one of those unexpected little health crises to happen at that time of your life (for me, the first time was in my college years) when you boldly dare the world by living without insurance coverage. 

Good thing I learned early. But paying off a several-thousand-dollar bill for unplanned surgery when you’re a self-supporting 20-something does something to how you view the rest of your financial life. Your mantra becomes “Get insurance. Get insurance.” That works well if you land the right jobs and/or marry the right spouses.

What if you don’t and you find yourself one of those millions who get by each and every day crossing their fingers that neither illness nor accident ever darken their door? 

Leah’s Story 

I’m more than aware of the company I keep in my own single-mama world. At present, I know of at least two friends who have been struggling with combing through whatever information is out there about how to insure yourself when reality doesn’t turn out like you’d planned. 

I asked Leah, single mom to an adorable toddler, to describe the situation that unfolded as a result of her daughter’s father abandoning them just after her birth. 

Leah’s story falls into that gray zone that may be even bigger than the number of uninsured. She does have coverage, but is hardly able to even use it, all the while doling out a large percentage of her resources to maintain it. 

“As a single, unemployed mother of a child with recently re-diagnosed special needs, our health insurance situation is dreadful. When I was with my daughter’s father, I was fully employed in the corporate world with all of the perks and benefits (full life, health and disability insurance, 401k, flex spending accounts, the works.) He left after she was born and, after trying to be all things to all people, I resigned a little over a year ago after a change in management and increased travel requirements made my position untenable as a single parent with no family or resources for extra childcare support. My intention was to file for unemployment and for child support. My ex, who is a tax and family law attorney, is now feigning amnesia about our relationship and certainly his parental obligations.” 

Naturally, not all single women are struggling with the legal/financial hardships that Leah has encountered, but her story illustrates how the element of life’s surprises can rock what at first appears to be the most stable of vessels. In the end, she paid $7,000 to successfully prove paternity in court. But her battles are not over.  

Today, her toddler, who was born seven weeks premature, has had several hearing and speech development issues. Leah has responded like a mama lion with “a hands-on approach and periodic intervals of 115% mommy-in-the classroom effort to pull her back inside the ‘normal’ area under the curve.”  

She pays over $400 per month for insurance. When employed full-time, her premiums were paid via twice-monthly $63 paycheck deduction. Even so, Leah’s coverage is nearly unusable.  

“I am afraid to go the doctor unless ‘it gets really bad’ because of the fear and knowledge that any diagnosis will trigger the inevitable pre-existing condition clause in my short-term six-month health insurance policies. I can apply for the state insurance program for kids (SCHIP), but then we lose our primary care physician. That worries me because continuity of primary care is an indicator of how well a child will fare. It adds up to ’no good’ for an asthmatic, speech/hearing/language challenged child of a single unemployed mother.” 

She also frets that “any day my daughter is at home and sick is another day that I am unemployed. I haven’t had a PAP or annual exam in almost two years now because, if a problem were to ‘turn up’, I’ll get clobbered later if the treatment extends beyond the current six-month period.” 

Leah says her only hope is finding that pearl of a job that has everything she needs. Into this less-than-rosy recession she ventures with 20 years of stellar work history, a long reference list, incredible work ethic, and double Master’s degrees in hard sciences. She jokes that she’s looking for a courageous knight on a white horse, but the reality is that her pride would never allow her to settle for a relationship based on financial need, even if she knows, “I am playing roulette with my health.” 

One in a Million 

Leah’s is but one story. While there’s hope on the political horizon at all times, our bodies don’t hear the news. The many culprits which assault our health that are beyond our immediate control — environmental toxins, invisible viruses and bacteria, cellular diseases that we haven’t even named yet, never mind unexpected accidents — don’t wait until the time is right for us financially. 

It’s a grim picture for many of us.

What can you do about it? 

If You Need Insurance Now 

If your employer either doesn’t offer coverage, or if you cannot afford their premiums, a big marketplace has developed where you can literally shop for individual policies.  

It’s not cheap, but if you’re willing to be flexible — by accepting larger annual deductibles, having your list of covered physicians whittled down, paying more for copays, and paying additional fees for such ‘extras’ as vision care and dentistry — you can find policies that could be less expensive than what your employer offers, and certainly far less costly than winding up with an emergency or otherwise unavoidable health expense.


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