It’s been nearly four years since I fought on the front lines of the health care reform battle, eventually resulting in the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare). But that feels like a lifetime ago, as the landmark policy now serves as a punchline.
Despite a flawed rollout, I still believe it was all worth it—hours, days and months spent standing on corners, handing out flyers, hosting forums, talking until I lost my voice, and sparring with yellow-toothed Tea Party “patriots,” whose best argument against improving health care while saving taxpayers millions of dollars was to call me a “socialist.” After the laugh track fades away, and the policy has a chance to work, it’s going to be a game changer. And I can now speak from personal experience.
Until this week, I was among the millions of Americans without health insurance. For most of my life, I had been covered through my parents or my employer. After launching my own consulting practice early last year, I was forced to make a choice: pay more than $300 a month for private insurance or save that money for food, gas, and other priorities—and hope to avoid a catastrophic illness in the meantime.
As a young and relatively healthy person, this was not a difficult decision. And anyone who runs their own business knows the slim margin between success and failure. So I went without insurance. But every time I got sick, every time I felt a twinge in my bum knee, every time I felt a spike in my heart rate, I wondered if I would regret that decision.
The light at the end of the tunnel was the ACA, which took effect in the fall. Rather than break the bank, I resolved to wait and see what my government could do for me.
Like a lot of us, I’m a procrastinator at heart, so I let the first two months of enrollment pass without getting serious. I watched HealthCare.gov go through fits and starts while state exchanges like Covered California lived up to our President’s promise: making health care decisions easy, fast and affordable. I sat on the sidelines while late night talk show hosts made a joke out of the most significant piece of legislation to come out of Washington in 50 years. And on Sunday, just days after my 36th birthday, I finally clicked through to CoveredCA.com and spent exactly 90 minutes applying for my first private insurance program.
I’ve spent more time deciding between different pairs of shoes.
The process was smooth and intuitive. It gave me a clear picture of the options at my disposal. It took the mystery out of jargon like deductibles, copays and “coinsurance.” It gave me a sense of empowerment. And at the end of the process, I had exactly what I needed—peace of mind.
I found that I qualified for a tax credit of almost $200 a month, which helped me afford a premium rate that saves me from a high deductible and lets me visit my personal care physician for $40. I also have access to free preventative care like screenings and physicals, of which I’m more likely to take advantage now that I have insurance.
In the end, the toughest decision I faced was whether to go with a public or private plan. But again, that wasn’t much of a choice. I’m one of those crazy fools who believes in government, who trusts our public servants and employees. And now, I’m the happy owner of insurance through the Valley Health Plan.
Which means I should live to see the day when the real punchline of the ACA turns out to be the people who mocked and criticized it before it had a chance to thrive.
Peter Allen is an independent political and communications consultant and a proud native of San José. You can follow him on Twitter at @pjallen2. Open enrollment for health care through the public exchange ends March 31. Visit http://www.coveredca.com to learn more.