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The Health Coverage Odyssey of a New Florida Resident

By Sonata H., Hillsborough County

My husband and I moved to Florida from New York in August 2021. We are both college students. I currently attend the University of South Florida (USF) and he is taking classes at a different university. My husband has a full-time job right now and I previously worked in the art department at USF during the school year. I am working as a nanny at the moment as I prepare to start two jobs soon. In New York, I had health coverage through my mother’s insurance because I was under 26 at the time. However, I aged out when I turned 26, and that’s when the necessity arose for me to start looking for health coverage. Upon moving to Florida, I discovered that it is actually pretty difficult to get health insurance.

Around October 2021, my husband and I applied for insurance through the Marketplace, but we didn’t meet the income requirement to qualify for a tax credit. We actually made too much money, which surprised me because to us, we really didn’t make that much money. Without the tax credit, we were not going to be able to afford the insurance. It just wasn’t feasible, and I hate that I was put in a situation where I was going to have to choose between my health and my groceries. I was frustrated after that and just said, “forget it.” We then tried to explore other options and even started another application process through Hillsborough County. However, I still have an application swimming around somewhere because it was difficult and had so many different parts to it.

For at least the last five years, I had been taking prescribed medication for migraine headaches due to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) I sustained when I was a teenager. I need to take these pills every single day or else I’ll get a headache every single day. I was also taking another medication, and both medications were covered under my previous insurance with a minor copay. However, without insurance, it became so expensive to pay out of pocket for the medications that I actually stopped taking them around two months ago. I know it’s probably not healthy to just stop taking a medication cold turkey, but my husband and I were just not in a place where we could afford those expenses. I felt an immediate reaction when I stopped taking the TBI medication and it led me to get migraine headaches for a while after that. I didn’t really have a choice, either– my neurologist was in New York and wanted to see me in person. They didn’t offer telehealth and besides that, I didn’t have health insurance anymore. I had to let them know that I moved and couldn’t go.

I stopped taking my TBI medication during final exams so it was a horrible time to feel like I was not at my best. I definitely experienced more headaches throughout this time. When I’m on the medication, I probably have one or two really bad headaches a week. Without it, that number goes up to like four or five bad headaches a week, and I’ve been doing whatever I can to self-manage without the medication. I’ve been trying to exercise and even did some research to see what foods can induce migraines. I feel like now I’ve kind of leveled out in terms of migraines, but at first it was really rough.

When we moved to Florida, my husband and I looked into whether or not we qualified for Medicaid, and we actually didn’t qualify for any benefit. We applied on two different occasions for Medicaid and food stamps and didn’t qualify for any of those. I think the reason for this was that we don’t have a disability. I was initially really surprised about the hard restrictions and criteria that needed to be met in Florida. That wasn’t the case in New York. My family was low-income while I was growing up and my mom was a single mother. Having seen my mom apply for different services like food stamps, it just didn’t seem like it was as much of a problem to qualify for benefits there.

I’ve had a really crazy year. Besides moving and having to acclimate to a new culture and area, my mom ended up passing this past January and my husband experienced a relapse. I probably could have really used some sort of mental health services during that time and it saddens me that that wasn’t available. I ended up going to my school and receiving some free counseling that was available for students. However, this wasn’t an option over the summer, so I think some sort of telehealth therapy or counseling at that point would have definitely benefited me. In addition to the financial stress we experienced, I know that my mom’s death and moving here impacted my husband a lot, so he would have benefited from mental health services as well to help him deal with those stressors. There was just a lot of anxiety during that time so I wish that mental health care had been an option.

My husband and I experienced another incident during the months we were uninsured. Around November 2021, we contracted COVID-19. We went to the University Diagnostic Institute to get monoclonal antibody treatments, and we ended up having to cover those costs out of pocket because we were uninsured. My husband also ended up struggling with poor oxygen levels, so we went to an urgent care clinic. We had to cover those costs out of pocket as well, and it was not cheap. We had to dip into our emergency savings to pay for all of this. It was a horrible time to not be insured. It feels like you’re walking on eggshells when you don’t have health insurance because anything could happen.

At the beginning of May 2022, we decided to try signing up for health insurance again. We had gone uncovered for too long. On top of struggling to afford my prescription medications, I was unable to see a primary care doctor or receive routine care from the dentist or eye doctor. Given that we’re college students living in Tampa, where rent is expensive, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to afford insurance and unsure if we could even apply for it because I thought the date to sign up had passed. Up until that point, we had never used any sort of insurance broker for help while enrolling in health coverage, so my husband and I just needed a helping hand with the process.

I discovered the Family Healthcare Foundation through a rabbit hole of Google searches. Processes like insurance enrollment tend to overwhelm me because I worry about the consequences of doing things wrong, and I just needed someone to walk me through things. After getting over the fear of sounding like I don’t know what I’m talking about, I gave the Family Healthcare Foundation a call and they got back to me right away. The woman who helped me, Lynnette, walked me through the entire application. She was so helpful, patient, and knowledgeable. I feel like she practically knew the application from memory, so I knew she had been down this road before. She talked over plans with me, explained what everything meant, and helped me find all the information I needed. After going through the process, I discovered that my husband and I qualified for tax credits, which helped us afford a Silver plan. The fact that I do not work at USF anymore is the reason we qualified for tax credits this time around. Compared to the other times I’ve looked for insurance, my experience this time was a lot more positive. The application process itself lasted only a few days, and it was really quick so I was happy about that.

Now that I have health coverage, I am looking forward to being able to get back on my medications. While I was enrolling in my insurance plan, I made sure to include the two specific medications I take in the application, so I know both of them will be covered. I am also looking forward to establishing a primary care doctor in the area and attending regular doctor’s visits in order to start taking care of issues that I’ve been putting off for so long. My mom suffered from hypothyroidism so I know that I’m probably going to have thyroid concerns as well. I just haven’t had health care for so long and it hasn’t been possible for me to deal with those concerns. My insurance plan includes dental and vision, so I’m looking forward to seeing a dentist and going to the eye care doctor. I’m excited to just be able to get a normal checkup and make sure that everything is okay. I feel like this will create a lot more peace for me, rather than having the anxiety of not knowing, being boxed into a corner, not being able to get the services that I need, and just feeling like there is a ticking clock. One’s health is too important to cut corners on, and I am so happy that I will be able to receive proper care now that I am insured.

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