I am one of those people who “gamed” the whole pre-existing condition thing, as described by Mitt Romney on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. I waited until I got sick before I went on the insurance market, thinking I was immortal, laughing at the rubes who paid premiums. And even though I worked a full year or more before my diagnosis, I spent every dime of my money on frivolous things like a record player and the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever.
I was 14 years old.
That was a few decades ago. Like millions of people in this country, despite my chronic illness, I have been proud to work full time my entire life, and I have had to work full time, because I am uninsurable. I have worked hard to establish myself in a profession that would provide insurance with as much security as possible. The “free market” of health insurance is closed to me as an individual (as is the life insurance market). Yes, I understand health care competition. Health care competition means insurance companies compete with each other not to insure people like me.
I remember being 16 years old, picking up my paycheck, having spent weeks of the preceding year in the hospital, while doing my best to maintain my after-school job working for minimum wage in a nursing home. I looked at that paycheck, and I saw the Medicare deduction. I hadn’t been told, but I’d found a book about my disease and I’d looked up my life expectancy (given the current state of treatment for my disease) and I stood there and did the math. The statistics said I probably wouldn’t live long enough, but I remember thinking that if I did live long enough to get old, I would have health care. I was happy to see that deduction and always have been (although I have wished I was paying into a single-payer system for everyone instead). I am thankful that treatment for my illness has made great progress since then, and I do expect to live long enough to collect the Medicare benefits I have paid for all these years. But I am in that 45-55 year old range that would be the generation most betrayed by the suggestions of Romney/Ryan. That really pisses me off.
I have never felt like a victim, and whether I felt/feel entitled to health care or not, it wouldn’t matter. I’ve worked for it. And I’m okay with that. But the characterization of people with pre-existing conditions as “irresponsible” is deeply offensive to me personally. And accusing chronically ill people of “gaming the system” and feeling “entitled to healthcare” is as cruel and out of touch as anything and everything Mr. Romney has said so far in his campaign.