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I’d Die For Single Payer Health Care: Here’s Why by Elsie Ramsey

I’m ready to get out on the street and raise Cain. Bring out the tear gas, tasers, dogs–the whole military. Will I be scared? Of course. But not enough to cower.

I’m 38 years old, and for the majority of my adult life I’ve been uninsured. But this is so much bigger than me.

Last year my sister gave birth to her first child. As soon as she had medical confirmation, their family was put on a payment plan to prepare for the coming costs. In the U.S., the average new mother who has insurance will pay more than $4,500 for labor and delivery. That’s without any complications or after birth care. Giving birth–arguably the most magical, terrifying and emotionally charged biological imperative we experience as human beings is now a cost consideration. Like buying a house. Who thinks that’s ok? Please identify yourself to me.

Rewind a few more years: it’s 2015 and my workplace, a small non-profit in New York City, is changing health plans after the current one’s price tag violently spiked. I sit in meetings with my boss who had late stage cancer while she pleaded her case for a plan that would allow her to continue care at Memorial Sloan Kettering. We had very little leverage as an organization, not having the employee head count that would make us attractive to the manically profit-driven insurance mob. I sat there with the least at stake–no dependents or fatal health considerations and my heart broke.

My former boss died two years ago. I’d been gone from the organization for a long time now but my activism around universal healthcare got a potent shot of energy. I assume she was able to access the care she needed but the necessity of having to worry about cost during a fight for your life brought my “radicalization” to completion.

And yes, my story is less dramatic. But the emotional pain of not having insurance for so many years–as an already depressed person–is impossible to calculate or fully describe.

It wasn’t because I was the risk-taking 20 something we hear ear so much about. I never, not once, considered myself invincible. It wasn’t because I was “lazy”. Year after year, I paid my taxes as an underpaid, employed young adult.

I started work as a fashion model at 17 and that was my primary source of income through the age of 24. In that line of work the IRS considers you an Independent Contractor. For those who don’t know, as I didn’t as a 17 year old, that means nothing is taken out of your pay check. So you better be putting some money away or you’re going to get hit with a big bill come tax time. The whole thing was a financial disaster. I never made more than about 30 some thousand a year; not enough to pay for private insurance after you take out housing and other basic necessities in New York. That was too much income to qualify for Medicaid.

Each and every one of those years I needed medical care for my depression. Obviously that involves regular office visits plus the cost of medication. I found the cheapest care I could. Many medications were off the table for me because they were name brand (not generic) and would have cost hundreds of dollars. For like 30 pills.

I suffered terribly. My heart would beat fast every time I was in line at a pharmacy because I wasn’t sure if I could cover the cost of my prescriptions.

At 24 I retired from modeling and started my college degree. To make money, I worked as a nanny. Being a nanny had its perks but insurance wasn’t one of them. I applied for Medicaid but when my employer was called to verify my income, I was again making too much.

When I started working less hours as a babysitter, I did get Medicaid. I don’t remember how long I was covered, but it was a gigantic relief. I couldn’t believe I was getting my medication for $5. It was bliss.

Then I started an internship that paid me enough to place me out of the eligibility bracket again. I had a small nest egg at that point and a friend of the family covering my psychiatric visits. Even so, there was an anti-depressant my doctor thought would be a good choice for me that I couldn’t try because it wasn’t yet generic.

I got my first full-time office job at around the age of 30. I had insurance. I started going to doctors like crazy and it was awesome. When I left that job about 18 months later, I was offered Cobra. Anyone know how much Cobra costs? At that time it was about $700 a month. How is an unemployed person in a position to take on that kind of expenditure? It’s a cruel joke. I’ve had two more office jobs since then and not for a single moment did I forget how fortunate I was to be covered. Literally every time I filled a prescription or went to the doctor, I got a little thrill.

Now I’m in my late 30s and working for myself. I pay for private insurance out of pocket. It’s a big expense and if our family has a financial blow, I’ll be unable to afford it.

So this isn’t hyperbole: I would get out there on the street and put my life on the line if that would get us single payer. I wouldn’t have to think twice. I’d do it to honor all the people who have lost their lives because of insurance companies’ greed.

Of all the causes that need a full throttle fight right now, this is mine. Please join me.

-costs of my care are approximate,

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