Some thoughts on health insurance.

For years, I worked for myself, and when I was doing well I could afford health insurance, but the last few years I couldn't. And this made the world a threatening place, because I could be cast into a lifetime of debt by a single hospital bill. Every time I crossed the street I thought about what would happen to me if I was hit by a car, and I was nervous riding my bicycle, even wearing my helmet, because if I fell and broke an arm, I'd have to think of money first and pain second. So I stopped riding my bike.

Some people would pull back a little bit when they learned I wasn't covered. Because people without insurance are the living embodiment of risk, of the potential that life has to go wrong. I talked about this with my other uninsured friends, and they all agreed that they sometimes felt like social outcasts, like there was something wrong with us. We were not complete.

But now, suddenly, I find myself covered. I started a new job and received a blue insurance card in the mail. I sat for a long while on the edge of my bed, looking at that card, feeling its sharp edges in my hand. It was just a few square inches of plastic but it made me feel like a whole person to have it in my grasp.

What insurance promises is continuity in the face of fate. If you're uninsured and you get hit by a car, you are basically screwed. While you heal up you'll have a hard time making a living, and once you're healed you'll have an itemized hospital bill as long as a novel to pay down for the next several years. But if you're covered, you'll spend some time being tended by doctors and nurses, then you'll return to the life you had before you were hurt, and things will be roughly as they were, and you can forget that anything bad ever happened. That's the promise. Now that I have benefits I can plan my life knowing that if tragedy strikes, in the form of a hurtling bus, or a bullet, or some disease, I won't be left to fend for myself.

Having insurance also changes the way I see my body. When I was uninsured my body belonged only to me. When I was sick, I waited out the sore throat and fever in bed. But my body with benefits is partially the responsibility of others. I have a new doctor, a nice woman in Brooklyn. She tells me that I weigh too much, that I must take better care of myself, smoke fewer cigars and eat less salty food. I need to get on a plan, she says. And once I get on that plan, I think, I can get married, and my wife can share in my insurance, and we can have children and know that they will be protected by the full benefits of science and progress. Health care gives me a future. I talked about this with my mother, who has only a bare minimum of coverage and worries constantly about her health. She said, “Paul, what can you do? I'm one of the poor people in America now. At least I'm not alone.” And she's happy for me that I have entered the insured class and can enjoy the blessings of my benefits.

It was no fun, in those uninsured days, to feel that my life wasn't worth enough to save. Somehow having a job, working for other people—it makes me more of a full human being, and worth a doctor's time. So I keep my little blue card in my wallet at all times, and when I cross the street I think to myself, if I get hit by a car, it will be okay. I know that doesn't seem fair, and I don't like the equation that it represents, but that's the deal, and it's the only deal out there right now.




Ftrain.com is the website of Paul Ford and his pseudonyms. It is showing its age. I'm rewriting the code but it's taking some time.


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.


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© 1974-2011 Paul Ford


@20, by Paul Ford. Not any kind of eulogy, thanks. And no header image, either. (October 15)

Recent Offsite Work: Code and Prose. As a hobby I write. (January 14)

Rotary Dial. (August 21)

10 Timeframes. (June 20)

Facebook and Instagram: When Your Favorite App Sells Out. (April 10)

Why I Am Leaving the People of the Red Valley. (April 7)

Welcome to the Company. (September 21)

“Facebook and the Epiphanator: An End to Endings?”. Forgot to tell you about this. (July 20)

“The Age of Mechanical Reproduction”. An essay for TheMorningNews.org. (July 11)

Woods+. People call me a lot and say: What is this new thing? You're a nerd. Explain it immediately. (July 10)

Reading Tonight. Reading! (May 25)

Recorded Entertainment #2, by Paul Ford. (May 18)

Recorded Entertainment #1, by Paul Ford. (May 17)

Nanolaw with Daughter. Why privacy mattered. (May 16)

0h30m w/Photoshop, by Paul Ford. It's immediately clear to me now that I'm writing again that I need to come up with some new forms in order to have fun here—so that I can get a rhythm and know what I'm doing. One thing that works for me are time limits; pencils up, pencils down. So: Fridays, write for 30 minutes; edit for 20 minutes max; and go whip up some images if necessary, like the big crappy hand below that's all meaningful and evocative because it's retro and zoomed-in. Post it, and leave it alone. Can I do that every Friday? Yes! Will I? Maybe! But I crave that simple continuity. For today, for absolutely no reason other than that it came unbidden into my brain, the subject will be Photoshop. (Do we have a process? We have a process. It is 11:39 and...) (May 13)

That Shaggy Feeling. Soon, orphans. (May 12)

Antilunchism, by Paul Ford. Snack trams. (May 11)

Tickler File Forever, by Paul Ford. I'll have no one to blame but future me. (May 10)

Time's Inverted Index, by Paul Ford. (1) When robots write history we can get in trouble with our past selves. (2) Search-generated, "false" chrestomathies and the historical fallacy. (May 9)

Bantha Tracks. (May 5)

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