Being poor is a lot more work than I expected, but on the plus side, state health coverage just came through for me.
Let’s recap: I had my cushy Berkeley job in the spring semester, which allowed me to coast from my divorce at the end of 2016 straight into health coverage. And then…nothing.
I wrote about these concerns in my blog post I Don’t Know How I’m Going to Get Healthcare and I’m Terrified. The answer, it turns out, is to be impoverished and try to obtain insurance through the state.
As of this month, the fall semester has started back up, but I’m just an adjunct. That means no access to health coverage through my job, so we’re basically back where we started: me adrift in Indiana, doing scholarly work that pays nothing because it pays in prestige.
There are social systems to help deal with this kind of thing though, right? I spent the summer learning just how complicated it is to pursue these options. My first application for health care was turned down because UC Berkeley’s bureaucracy had not officially shifted my status to “no longer on the payroll,” and I couldn’t appeal the decision. So, back to the start line. Luckily I’ve got friends who know the system, who are able to help me navigate it. It’s still not easy, though.
The kicker is that I’m not the only person in this position. As I wrote in my blog post:
This situation is systemic, and I’m not the only adjunct or otherwise poorly-compensated academic (like grad students) struggling with it. I’m fortunate to be in fairly good health, but it’s still really challenging to focus on my teaching when I have to worry about stuff like this.
It’s a travesty that so many universities utilize adjunct labor to keep costs down, shunting daily working expenses (owning and maintaining a laptop; obtaining continuing education and training) onto the underpaid workers without job security. This arrangement ill serves students as well, since adjuncts are teaching many of their classes but won’t always be around to write letters of recommendation or provide the kind of mentoring that a long-term employee could.
The notification that my application for health coverage through the state was approved came in mere days ago, but I don’t know how the fact of my fall employment will change my access to coverage, if at all. For instance, I’m hovering right around the poverty line and have not yet received my first paycheck, but I don’t think I’ll be disqualified? And given the nature of adjunct work, things could be completely different next semester. I don’t think the ACA is built with seasonal workers in mind, with our complicated fluctuating salaries, and Indiana does not have great ACA exchanges, or so I’m told.
I know that there’s a lot of shame and stigma surrounding poverty, and that’s part of why I want to be transparent about what I’m going through now. I haven’t applied for food stamps yet, but I’m considering it. I had a couple of urgent care visits over the last month to deal with minor infections that, of course, cost money, so I’m relieved that the health care I got kicks in retroactively, since those bills are enough to be troublesome given my lack of paychecks coming in.
So… yeah. Yet another reason I’m in favor of moving toward single-payer health care. I don’t want my uterus to kill me. I don’t want the costs associated with routine health check-ups to become unmanageable. And I think this should be a basic human right, accessible to all people regardless of employment situation.
This excellent Guardian article about the plight of adjuncts really hit home for me. I don’t have to live in my car, but an unexpected illness or accident could have devastating consequences for me, and it’s a bummer for any member of an industrialized society to have to live with that fear hanging over their heads.