This past summer, I left my position as Deputy National Editor of this publication to go "follow my dreams before it's too late" in Mexico. Cutting ties with HuffPost meant walking away from a health plan that I'd been taking for granted for the past 5 years, thinking of it mainly as a minor annoyance that required me to listen to 20 minutes of bad hold music every time I had a question about coverage or how to dispute a charge.
The fellowship that justified my Latin American adventure provided health insurance, and I'd seen the dentist and the doctor recently enough. So I got a couple shots and left the country without thinking too hard about anything else health care-related.
Six months later, my fellowship ended, and I decided to continue my journey southward. Officially without coverage, I poked around on the Obamacare website to learn about what's available for those sort-of-expats who have no permanent address and have spent much of the year as insured, income tax-paying U.S. residents.
Turns out there's no official government handbook for that demographic, but after a few hours of reading various fine prints, I learned that I was indeed eligible for Covered California, the answer to Obamacare in my home state. For someone at my income level, which this month is a random and paltry patchwork of freelance assignments, the cheapest plan would cost $250 a month not including copays. Eventually I'd have to remember to mail in some form of residency proof to some office somewhere.
Not a huge inconvenience, especially because more Americans than ever are now accessing the care they need, but perhaps not the most efficient system out there, either. So I did a little more research to see what other options might be available to people who aren't just some privileged white girl on a "let's be uninsured for a month" experiment.
I called a couple local physicians that came up high on Yelp searches to see how much they'd charge someone without insurance for an annual visit. The cheapest ones said they cost multiple hundreds of dollars. I looked up free clinics. A number of customer reviews warned I couldn't make an appointment in advance and might get stuck waiting in line all day to be seen.
Then I called Planned Parenthood. I wasn't treated to any hold music, and an amicable customer service representative told me they had an appointment slot available that very same morning. The modest income I earned this month qualified me for a year of free visits, hardly any questions asked. I didn't even have to show my ID.
The visit itself was painless and clean, during which I had some informative real-talk with the warm and approachable nurse practitioner, who was around my age. On my way out, I donated the equivalent of what the visit would have cost a patient with a higher monthly income. Given the millions of people living in America who truly need and rely on services like this, it didn't seem fair otherwise.
The TV in the waiting room was turned to a local newscast as I was leaving. I heard the anchorwoman say something about a mass shooting. All anyone knew at the moment was that it had happened at a center for people with disabilities in Southern California, and more than a dozen individuals had allegedly been hit by bullets. Less than a week ago, some monster did the same thing at a Colorado branch of the convenient and compassionate organization that had just helped me.
I looked around the room as the news unfolded on KPIX, the rattled reporters masking their discomfort with their stoic search for facts, the "here we go again"s starting to trickle into my Facebook feed. A nurse practitioner took a patient's weight. The receptionist helped someone make an appointment. A technician carried a urine sample in her white gloves. Life was still moving forward here. Patients were still being helped.
Planned Parenthood is the kind of health care provider that should be available to anyone, at any time, on any part of this planet. Pleasant, quick, thorough, affordable and honest.
Instead, we're at the mercy of the opinions of a bunch of very powerful old white guys (and a few very powerful old white women) who are abusing Planned Parenthood's existence as a bid for even more power. Their poisonous words and actions makes it easier for angry men like Robert Dear Jr. to feel justified in committing horrific acts within Planned Parenthood's walls and elsewhere.
I'm not going to rant further about the dangerous rhetoric that gets force-fed to Americans on a 24-hour basis, or about gun control or Donald Trump or women's rights, or about how yesterday's heartbreaking tragedy has become the new normal, or about how everything about everything right now feels like we're all live-blogging this dystopian nightmare that's unraveling before our very eyes and smartphones. My story, like billions of other moments happening all the time all around us, will illustrate all of that much more clearly.
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