This blog post was written by Sharlinee Sritharan, BSN, RN, a graduate nursing student at Hunter -Bellevue College of Nursing, City University of New York.
On Christmas Day, 2010, I was taken to the emergency room at Queens Hospital Center for severe palpitations and endocarditis. I spent the next six days on an inpatient unit for close monitoring and intravenous antibiotics. I was a full time student back then with an income below poverty line and student health insurance that covered 95% of the medical expenses.
Two and a half years have passed and my out-of-pocket expenses for health insurance have sky rocketed from less than $40 to a few hundred dollars per month–a mere reflection of the change in my economic status from a full-time student to a full-time working, middle-class nurse. When I started working two years ago, my employer paid $4000 of an $8,000 premium for my health insurance. Currently, the same employer pays $4500 of an $11,000 premium for the same insurance. The problem here is that the paycheck hasn’t grown as much as the premiums and copayments did, adding to my financial stress as I try to live and work in New York City.
This makes me wonder how many middle-class, working families are struggling to pay for their medical expenses. You are not poor enough to qualify for government assistance, nor rich enough to pay for expenses out of pocket. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that a quarter of 45 million uninsured Americans in 2009 were middle class. AARP, in Middle Class Security Project, states that the “steep increases in the cost of premiums have led more workers to move to plans with lower premiums and less comprehensive coverage—trends that have increased the number of people at risk of being uninsured”–or underinsured. When the middle class experiences the risk of being uninsured or underinsured, there is a serious problem with our healthcare system. The Affordable Care Act will expand the number of people with health insurance by 2014 and will eliminate the co-payments for preventive services. But if the premiums stay high and the employers’ share of the premiums does not reflect the rising costs, then the working class, including myself, are at high risk of being uninsured or significantly underinsured.