Michelle D. is 45 years old, resides in Alachua County and currently works at a job that does not provide health care coverage. She has a history of abnormal pap smears and mammograms, in addition to two different skin cancers. In the past, she worked for an employer that provided health insurance and with annual check-ups, she was able to stay on top of her health care issues. Now, she is fearful that some of the symptoms she’s experiencing could be something more serious. The stress of not having health insurance for the past three years, not having access to the care she needs and now relying on a healthcare clinic is causing her a great deal of distress.
Like nearly 500,000 other Floridians, Michelle falls into the Coverage Gap because she earns too much to qualify for Medicaid, yet not enough to pay for health insurance. For 10 years, Florida’s state legislators have had the opportunity to expand Medicaid to cover Floridians earning below the poverty level while saving the state $200 million a year. It’s time to give these hardworking Floridians the security of health coverage.
“When I had my employer-based health insurance coverage, I had regular checkups and felt that I was really able to stay on top of my most concerning health care issues. I would love to say to our legislators and other elected officials who have taxpayer paid healthcare, why don’t you see the need for the rest of us to receive the same care?”
Read more of Michelle’s Story…
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
Okay, my name is Michelle, I'm 44 and I will 45 in a couple days on the 25th. I currently work at a bamboo farm out here in Hawthorne, Florida. We divide and ship out bamboo for orders. I currently live with a significant other. Our kids are over 18 at this point, so we don't have any kids that live with us. It's just the two of us here.
For 20 years I was employed at a healthcare corporation. And at the end of 2019, I lost my job and my health care insurance. I couldn’t pay for COBRA coverage because it was like $800 a month. I didn’t have it at that time. This was also right after COVID hit and there wasn't a lot of opportunity to get another job like that. Many places were going to work at home, and I live out in the country and have satellite internet. So, a lot of that stuff was not an option for me either. For a while I actually did like Instacart and shipped which is independent contractor work. They don't have any health care coverage that they actually offer either. Then I just gone to work at this bamboo farm that's out here by me. It's a nice place to work. My boss's very lovely lady. But she doesn't have enough employees to offer an option for healthcare coverage for us.
What has it been like navigating your daily life without health insurance? Are you currently experiencing, or have you previously experienced, any health issues?
The last time I’ve seen any sort of doctor was in 2019.
At the end of 2019 I was having abnormal pap smears and they wanted me to do a follow-up biopsy. I’ve also had abnormal mammograms since my 30s and they told me that I need to follow-up early or by-yearly at least to keep things under surveillance. I am approaching 45 now. My last mammogram was in 2019. So it has been three years. These are really expensive tests to get.
I wasn’t able to do the biopsy stuff. And then I just haven't been able to have a follow up mammogram at all.
My first appointment with Equal Access clinic was in August of this year. And I haven't been to a doctor in over three years. [Since 2019]. But recently I wanted to see someone because I’ve been waking up a lot at night sweating. It worries me because it can be an indicator of cancer. It could also be menopause or other things. I am trying to figure it out. I’ve seen them about three times. I’ve had a pap smear which was negative. I’ve had a dermatology appointment because I have a history with basil cell and melanoma cancer. But that was good too. But I am just trying to figure out what is going and waiting to see what I do next with them.
I am still waiting to hear about my mammogram.
[Before Equal Access], I was just doing nothing. With what I did in the healthcare industry, I dealt with insurance companies. I don't want to go get a big, hefty bill, because I just couldn't afford it with all that I have going on with monthly bills and whatnot. I just did my best to take care of myself. There's been no major incidences or anything where I had to go see a doctor, so I just hadn't really worried about it. But in the past year or so I started these night sweats and waking up and having problems because of it. Functioning during the day when you're super tired because you couldn't sleep last night. It's just gotten to be a bit much.
What are some choices you have had to make in your life due to not having health insurance? Have you ever had to go to the Emergency Room?
The last thing I'd ever want to do is go to emergency room. I worked next door to it. My office was around the corner from it for 10 years. You'd have to take me by an ambulance. If there was like a really big emergency, maybe I'd go but like anything else, I would try to go see your urgent care doctor. There's so many people. And it just gets so crowded, and people don't understand the back end of the emergency room. I just don't want to go there if I don’t have to.
Have you had coverage in the past either through Medicaid or insurance through the Marketplace, or from a job?
For 20 years I was employed at a healthcare corporation. And at the end of 2019, I lost my job and my health care insurance.
I've never formally applied for Medicaid just because I'm already very aware of their eligibility requirements or regulations. I went online and looked at the Affordable Care Act and it didn't seem like I'd be eligible for any of that stuff, just because of my significant other who lives in the house with me. I just didn't complete following through with it.
What areas of your life have been impacted as a result of not having health insurance?
I’m much more anxious about what is going on with me and how do I figure it out without it costing me an arm and leg. I wish there were some other options. Especially women in my situation. I'm sure men have situations I can't necessarily understand fully, but breast cancer and cervical cancer, and that sort of stuff is common among women. I know I'm not the only person experiencing this stuff, and I just I don't know why it's so difficult.
How did you find out about the Equal Access clinic?
I just went to Google and started googling like, free medical clinic in my area, or something like that. And it was something that popped up. I recognize that they're UF students. I'm familiar with UF and whatnot. So, I reached out and called them just to see like, Could I get in or not? I wasn't even 100% sure.
Knowing that expansion would be helpful for people with known conditions, tell me your thoughts on how Medicaid expansion would be helpful for you?
Just having had the two different types of skin cancer, abnormal pap smear, and mammograms that they tell you to have done every year. It's like, I know if I tried to buy basic insurance, and they're still allowed to do any of the pre-existing stuff on those policies, they're just going to be like, ‘Oh, any kind of cancer you get, we're not going to cover. That's excluded.’ So, that stuff's probably not even really a good option for me at the expense that it is. I don't understand how they can't just have something where you've had this diagnosis and once a year, you're allowed to get the routine screening for that sort of condition, like dermatology. It's just a dermatologist looking your body over but because you've had skin cancer, you're going to be they call it complex case. So, the price of your visit goes up by like $100 to $300. It doesn't make sense to just put people under that kind of stress that already don't have insurance. That have to come up with that kind of money. A mammogram alone is $1,000 just to have the technologists, the radiologists do it. And then to have an actual physician radiologist read it, is a few 100 more dollars. Like how is that feasible just to make sure I don't have breast cancer? I just I don't understand how people could be treated that way.
Unacceptable is a good word, because it really shouldn't be that difficult.
If you could say anything to our elected officials or legislators, those in power that have the ability to do something about just how difficult our healthcare system is functioning at the moment, what message would you share?
It's our taxpayer money that affords them the health care that they get their benefits and the physicians that they get to see. I don't understand why they don't see the need for the rest of society to have the same comfort for life.