A few days ago I donned my gown and my cap with its little gold tassel, and I graduated with highest honors from my college. Now that I am transitioning out of student life, I have many decisions to make. What will I do? Where will I work? What am I going to do without my generous Obamacare stipend?
Immediately following high school, I entered the working world as a retail manager. I enjoyed the hard work, the promotions, and the encouragement I received from my supervisors. I was making just enough money to live in a rented 2-bedroom townhouse with a roommate, and my full-time status qualified me for healthcare coverage through the company. At the same time, I longed for work that would be more meaningful for me. I was disinterestedly interviewing to be the manager of my own store when I decided to pursue my education.
My passion for politics steered me towards a degree in policy and economics. For over four years I diligently prepared for exams, listened to several hundred hours of lectures, and participated in group projects that made me wish I could strangle my classmates without repercussions. I also worked part-time jobs, volunteered, interned at three different organizations, and attended a semester abroad.
When I turned 27, I was no longer covered by Mom’s insurance plan. As a student with a low-wage part-time job and the occasional unpaid internship, my tiny income allowed me to qualify for bodacious healthcare stipends. As a wage-earner in the lowest tax bracket, over 90% of my Obamacare costs were covered by a so-called premium tax credit. In 2017, things will be more complicated.
As a recent graduate, I imagine myself carving a path in the world with the same patience that the Colorado River took to erode the Grand Canyon: slow and tedious, but not when you think of the intensity of the rapids and the roar of water as the waves pummel through the canyons and stone is forced to make way for water. I am taking a chance and accepting a temporary apprenticeship which excites me and will give me an opportunity to test-drive a career of passion.
At least one person looked me in the eye and urged me to reconsider. After all, I’m 28, I live in my parent’s basement, and I had a post-graduation plan that included dental and a 401k, not a benefit-free six-month gig. I admit it, this choice is a gamble. What am I going to do about money and healthcare? I have six months before student loan collectors come a-knockin’. Sure, there are many jobs that will provide for a closet full of clothes, a pile of bricks, and a matching storage unit. However, this opportunity just might be the onramp to a life that I long for and that I didn’t think was possible.
Unfortunately, as a temporary employee, I am not eligible for benefits like a 401k or employer-generated healthcare. I will receive compensation for my work, but my modest income will render my healthcare stipend to nearly evaporate. I will be earning too much money to keep my government assistance, but earning too little to comfortably afford the monthly premiums. Of course, there is always a choice to make: I can go back to work that is completely unfulfilling but will allow me to pay for healthcare coverage, or I can try to earn less money so that I qualify for support.
I can even shove my fists in my eyes and out-ugly Kim Kardashian’s cry-face, or I can be grateful that my organization is taking a chance on me. I can be happy that, although my financial future is questionable, delayed gratification is the very hallmark of adulting. I can’t know the future, but I believe this is the best move I can make at present.
And so, when the enrollment deadline for HealthCare.gov rolled around, I had another choice to make. My decision is to go without health insurance.
For weeks, I have received emails, automated phone calls, and voicemails, sternly reminding me, “Don’t wait for your monthly health care costs to increase by 50 percent or more in January,” and, “Come back to HealthCare.gov and try to find a less expensive plan.” But the plans are already outrageous. So, last night, at the zero-hour for signing up for healthcare, I decided to go without.
It makes me nervous. I fear the penalty. It seems ridiculous that my choice to pay out of pocket for medical visits will be punished later, and at a rate of 2.5% of my income. I think we can all agree that a monetary penalty would be better spent compensating a doctor, nurse, or dentist for their skills. The incentives are completely out of whack.
Weaning off the government teat is painful, I don’t enjoy the sensation, but there are no satisfying alternatives. So pass the vitamins and kale chips, I can’t afford any illnesses for at least six more months.