In August 2009, I was recently laid off and just beginning to realize that I was one of an excessive number of overqualified applicants for every vacancy I applied to. My “severance package” was 12 months of the school district paying into COBRA for me. Without this small grace, I would likely have had to return home to live with my parents after being out on my own for over four years. Unemployment insurance would cover my mortgage payments and groceries or my health insurance and groceries, but not all three. Having been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease at the age of 15, I was dependent on medication with a $200 copay to keep me healthy enough to support myself. I knew that outside of COBRA or an employer-sponsored plan there was no way I could get coverage.
It was then that my phone rang with a reminder that teaching, while something I enjoyed, was something I might not have chosen if I hadn’t needed a job with good benefits. I will never forget the sense of relief and renewed purpose when the voice on the other end of the line introduced himself as a field organizer for Organizing for America. He was new to the area, sent down to spearhead the push for healthcare reform, and was calling people who volunteered on the President’s 2008 campaign to see if they were interested in helping. You bet I was.
Becoming a grass-roots organizer to promote what would become the Affordable Care Act was both exhilarating and frustrating. Hearing other peoples’ stories and educating people on how the act could benefit them and their families was not always easy. Knowing that we were pushing through historic and much-needed reform kept us all going. In spite of this, we were all too aware that the bill still relied too heavily on the market-based for-profit system. The result is certainly not perfect, but it is a start. At present, I am on an abysmal major risk medical plan. It fills the gap between the plan that lapsed after my graduation from law school and the plan I will be on in January when the marketplace plans go into effect. The realities of that travesty of a plan could be a full post in and of itself. Without the ACA, however, I would not even have this. I am grateful this Thanksgiving for that, along with the prospect of a real, non-employer based plan starting in 2014.