29 January 2012

A Letter to Congress

Dear Congress,

I want you to know how out of touch you are with the middle class.  The news reports it, people yell it from the streets (literally), but somehow you all, every single one of you, have missed it.  So I feel I must tell you just how out of touch you really are.
 I was part of what you might call the middle-class.  I made good money working as a firefighter full-time at one department, and part-time at another.  My new husband made so-so money working at a local supply house for electricians.  His company doesn't, and hasn't in a long time, offered any benefits, so we had good (not great) health insurance through my work.  We were paying off bills, beginning to save for a house (we rent now) and spending money on things we needed to establish our household.  We also were talking about when we were going to start a family, and I was going back to school to get my Masters in Special Education so that once we did start a family I could find a job where I would be home at night.  We took out a student loan, and were not worried about making payments, because we made enough money to do what we needed to do.
Then I got sick. I was diagnosed with Meniere's Disease (a hearing and balance disorder), and before my FMLA time was even up, I was without full-time employment. Because of the severity of my disorder, I was no longer able to preform the duties of being a firefighter, so I was let go.  I had been with the company seven years, and as soon as my paperwork was done, I was let go.  We had a long-term disability policy through my job, but it would not even begin to pay for 90 days, assuming I was approved. We had to give up our health insurance because to COBRA would have cost more than $800.00 a month, and that was 3/4 of my husband's take home pay. Because we had to give up our insurance, I also had to quit physical therapy for my balance.  I had a part-time job for a little while, but because I was no longer able to be a firefighter there, well, they hired someone to fight fire, and someone else to replace me in the office. I was let go.  I found some other work that I could do for the following year, but it was difficult with the constant vertigo attacks and the daily symptoms of Meniere's.  That job had no benefits. 
I did finish my Master's program.  Since you passed the "Obama Care" laws with the student loan reform tacked on, I lost my chance to find a job in my state in a "critical needs" area and have my loan payed back.  My loans went from a great state program with lots of options, to a federal program that had fewer.  I no longer qualified for that program for repayment.  I thought perhaps I would find a job pretty quickly with my degree, but it was not to be so.
I work as a substitute teacher on call for a school district more than 25 miles away.  The district in my county hasn't accepted new substitutes in several years, and I was lucky enough to get on the closed roster in the next county.  I still struggle with the Meniere's, and there are many days I am too sick to work. I applied with Social Security Disability and was turned down.  I assume because my hearing loss is getting worse eventually I will be able to apply and be accepted again.  But frankly I want to work, so I plan on doing so for as long as I possibly can, even if I really shouldn't.
Now we are 18 months or so from my last days with health insurance.  I'm working a day or two a month, and we receive a small check from the disability insurance policy I was so wise to take out on myself so many years ago.  That policy will end in September, if not before.  My husband is working full-time, and although he has looked around for a better job with benefits, there are none.  My job search has been about the same.  I am physically limited due to my lack of balance and hearing issues, so I can not work "just any job".  I apply for jobs that are in my field and for jobs that are not.  I spend three days a week filling out applications for companies that have no openings.  I spend three days a week looking for a job that I can do, and that has benefits.  The other two days I spend working on keeping my skills and knowledge up to par.  Sometimes I get called to sub.  Those are great days because I get to work and earn a little money. But we still don't have insurance. 
I noticed a few weeks ago I wasn't feeling so well.  After a few doctors visits, and an expensive scan, we have discovered nodules and a lump on my thyroid. We are scrambling to get the PCIP the federal government offers so that I can see a specialist.  My family doctor told me there were a number of other doctors that won't take a new patient without insurance. So we are in the process of finding the money to afford both the coverage and the deductible.  We can not afford insurance for both of us, so I will be the one that gets the coverage.  Just like we can not afford dental care for both of us, so my husband gets the care, and I don't.  There are lots of plans and resources for those that are low income, but the levels for "low income" on paper are a joke.  We don't qualify for any assistance, yet we still can not afford medical care.  How is this possible?
This is just my story, there are thousands more like it. You have no idea how tight money is until you are looking at gas having gone up another 5 cents over night and you are trying to decide if its worth it to drive 25 miles for a job that pays $65.00 a day.  You have never checked your bank account and realized its three days until payday and you don't have enough money for groceries and will have to eat what ever canned soup you have in the cabinet until the pay check gets cashed.  You have never had the phone call from the doctor telling you they found a lump on some part of your body and burst into tears because you don't have insurance and you can not afford the tests that need to be run to see if its cancer. You have never had to eat rice and beans for two weeks so you can afford new clothes for an interview. You have never had to count change from your piggy bank to buy a pair of pants at the Goodwill because you last good pair split.  You have never had to decide not to see a doctor when you had the flu because you can not afford the visit, and there is NO way you are going to the ER until you are at deaths door because its too expensive.
We are not always that tight. We saved up for hockey tickets, and we took a weekend trip last year to the mountains. Sometimes, when medical expenses that we are not expecting occur, we are back to rice and beans for a few weeks. It's going to be really tight for us from here on out. I'm working on finding the specialist to see about my thyroid, and hoping I get approved for the PCIP.  The lump is uncomfortable and I don't imagine its going to go away on its own.
You, ladies and gentlemen, have no idea what its like in the real world.  I live in the real world.  I know that the "unemployment" numbers are a joke. I know the jobs out there have no benefits and lower pay than five years ago, and I know that if I get sick I'm in deep trouble. 
Do I think you could do a better job? Yes.  Do I think you need to stop fighting and listen to people like me?  Yes.  Do I think you will ever do it?  Nope. After all, why should you care?  You have a good paying job, great health care and a benefits package that follows you home even after one term.
I don't know, nor pretend to know, how to "fix" the countries health care issues. I don't know how to keep jobs here and make more jobs. I have a few ideas about gas prices and education though. 
You all are set for life with one term. One. I have to find a job that has benefits and pays enough to allow me to have a paycheck at the end of the month too. Oh and that job has to last a while.
Maybe if you were in my shoes you'd understand and actually want to do something. Maybe you'd "get it", finally. 
Stop representing yourselves and start representing the people, like me, that voted you into office. Thanks for nothing Congress.

Signed: A scared voter......

No comments:

Post a Comment