Since becoming aware of my pregnancy, it has been a struggle to find and keep my insurance. When I turned 16, I begged my mom to try and find some way for our family to have health insurance. Driven by teenage vanity, I desperately wanted to see a dermatologist for my moderate acne. She was accepted to Kaiser Permanente’s Healthy Family’s state program for children. Since I was the only person in my family under the age of 18, I was the only one who could be covered for a monthly fee of eighty dollars. By the time my 18th birthday rolled around, I had just begun working for Starbucks. After a mere three months of barista life, I was sent news that I qualified for the miraculous part time insurance benefits the public constantly raves about. I went online and chose Kaiser again as my health care provider. With a new sense of independence I bragged to all my friends, family, and even the occasional customer that I officially had insurance whilst pumping their drinks full of skinny vanilla. Little did I know, I would soon be in for a rude awakening. Yes it’s true, Starbucks employees are offered great benefits, however most fail to recognize the hourly quota caveat.
It wasn’t till becoming rooted in this establishment that I realized these benefits weren’t easy to lock into. You must work a minimum of 20 hours per week in order to meet the quarterly quota which really means the fate of your insurance rests in the hands of your manager. Like many women, I suffered from morning sickness in the early stages of my pregnancy. On average, that meant vomiting twice a day sometimes in my car, sometimes at work, and on rare occasions into an actual toilet. My manager saw how much I was struggling and for the sake of keeping our store up to health codes, scheduled me less hours. Shortly after the cut was made, I received news in the mail I was being dropped from my healthcare plan. A tear eyed emotional mess, I called Kaiser to confirm this bad news. The woman sounded sincerely apologetic, but dismissed me none the less. I sobbed on my parents leather couch hysterically. I went to the bathroom to wipe off my smeared makeup and it looked as though Marylin Manson had taken over my reflection. I then called Starbucks benefits, because I wanted to see if there was anything more I could do or fight for. After a very confusing conversation of why the benefits were offered and retracted, I came to the conclusion I was stuck health insurance-less. Panic ensued. I was inevitably pushed toward the supple government teat.
My first encounter with MediCal began through the screen of my laptop. I filled out an online application that took three hours to fully complete. The automated e-mailing service then told me my application would be processed over the next couple of weeks and would be followed up with a phone call. They kept their word. Once I recieved the phone call, I was given special instruction to go into one of the county’s local welfare offices and speak to a social worker. The very next day, I found myself sitting at 9:30am in the welfare offices. I can best describe it like waiting in line at the DMV, only much worse. The walls looked like they were once coated a vibrant navajo white, but now reflected a dingy grey from finger smudges and soot. Beneath the florescent lighting were lines intersecting other lines of a versatile group of people. I made five categories for the types of people I saw. There were the “obviously-abusing-the-system” types of drug addicts you hear conservatives complaining about when tax season rolls around. There were the “poor foreigners” who were guided there for what I can only infer to be a variety of circumstances. There were the “white trash illiterate” who occasionally cross categories with “obviously-abusing-the-system” drug addicts. Lastly, there was “other”. I like to think I fit in the “other” category (however, 18 and pregnant might plunk me in the white trash category). The process was slow and there is a continuous shuffle of where you need to go and which line suits your needs. Typically once you reach your destination, you are greeted by employees who’s compassion has long been eroded and replaced with indifference. You are no longer a person, but rather a case number. It was 4:30pm by the time I left the building and had successfully obtained health coverage, a whopping 7 hours. Now I was part of this depressing system, but at least I wasn’t on my own.