The Life You Save Might be Your Own

There was this brief time between graduating from college getting full-time jobs that Tim and I went without health insurance. We had no coverage.

I’ll admit the need for health insurance was not something I had ever thought prior to this period in our lives. I was a college student. I had been covered throughout my early years under my father’s military insurance.  It was an insurance that would hold steady until I was 21. I had enjoyed good health throughout my childhood and into my early adulthood. Medical care just wasn’t something I paid attention to, likely because I had little need for it, other than the typical stuff – shots, colds, etc.

All that changed during the first year of our married life. Tim was in graduate school. He was working a couple of different jobs. We’d both graduated from OSU with our undergrad degrees earlier that year. The plan was that I would get a teaching job while he worked on his grad program. However, I ended up pregnant that first year of married life. That was not in our plans, and we were both totally unprepared for any of that – financially, emotionally, mentally.

I was 8 months pregnant when I collected that diploma onstage in Corvallis. We had no health insurance and no savings. And the question of who hires a woman 8-months pregnant wasn’t one I had ever considered. I had not taken any gender studies classes (new on campus back in those days). So the economics of pregnancy wasn’t something I had studied. Nor had I bothered to learn about the ways in which women are disadvantaged economically because pregnancy impacts one’s career and earning potential.

I was such a slow learner about all of these things.

But now, here I sit, weeks away from qualifying for Social Security and I see how that pregnancy and the subsequent pregnancies impacted me economically. My friends who didn’t get married, didn’t get pregnant, who worked steadily during the past 40 years qualify for almost double the rate of benefits that I do – and rightly so. They earned it. I don’t begrudge them that one bit. Albeit, I do question a system that punishes women who do marry, who do devote the bulk of their earning years toward having babies and raising babies.

The economic reality of not having health insurance slapped both Tim and I upside the head that summer following our graduation from OSU. How is it one goes about having a baby without any money or healthcare?

Neither of us came from wealthy families. My mother was a Gold Star widow. His parents were missionaries. None of them had the cash on hand to just pay up-front for prenatal care. So for the bulk of that pregnancy I went without any. It was only during the last few months that I saw a doctor at all, and that was only after my mother, the nurse, insisted that I see a doctor.

She found one who did home births. Given that this was going to be her grandchild, my mother scrapped together the $1,200 required to pay the doctor to deliver our son – in the back room of the trailer she owned.

I was completely oblivious to how difficult that was for her, to come up with the cash on her then megear salary. I didn’t think then how worried she must have been to have her grandchild born at home, in a trailer house, to parents who were both unemployed. I wonder sometimes how many nights she lay awake worrying for me, worrying about what would happen if that child were born with a disability that might require hospitalization?

As it turned out, the birth went well. Our son was born healthy in a rapid-fire birth situation that is comic now, but wasn’t so much when it was happening.

However, weeks after his birth, our son began to experience an onslaught of respiratory problems that did require numerous hospitalizations. We were listed as “indigents” due to the lack of funds and employment. We paid off the hospital bills at a rate of $15 a month for years to come.  Tim took on several part-time jobs. I subbed when I could for a whopping $45 a day. It was a stressful way to begin our lives together.

Had we had a national health insurance plan, most of that stress would have been relieved, not only for us as a young family, but for our own parents as well.

I read an article recently about a man who won a huge lottery, but even he was selling off his $26 million estate because his son has heart problems. The old adage is true.It doesn’t matter how much money you have if you don’t have your health.

Or if your kid doesn’t.

By the time our son was a year old, his health problems had begun to resolve. His respiratory system improved. The church we attended stepped in and helped us, financially and emotionally. I took a fulltime job that provided good health insurance. When our twins were born a few years later, our total bill was less than $100. I am not kidding. Every trip to the doctor required a co-pay of $2.

Those days are long gone, even for the gainfully employed. Our yearly deductible with group health is $5,000. Basically, we have what amounts to catastrophic insurance coverage. We, like millions of Americans, are holding our breath that nothing awful happens to either one of us prior to Medicare kicking in.

We are the richest nation in the world. The richest. There is absolutely no reason to not provide healthcare for all Americans.

Illness can and does devastate people of all ages, every single day in this country. And, listen, illness, chronic or acute, don’t give a rat’s ass if you are Republican or Democrat. It doesn’t care what your political persuasions are, or how right you think you are in your entrenched beliefs. Illness, chronic and acute, comes for each of us someday. Some of us sooner than later. Marriages are wrecked by it. Lives are wrecked by it. Finances are wrecked by it.

But they don’t have to be.

You might think you are exempt. That healthcare is the other fella’s problem. That healthcare is the problem for the poor among us. That healthcare is the problem of lazy people.

The truth is that all of us are at risk. All of us are one illness away from financial and emotional collapse. If we would fix the financial toil, much of the emotional toil would be addressed as well.

We have a choice in healthcare: We can make it a priority for all, or we can continue the current path we are on.  That’s our choice. Vote wisely. After all, the life you save may be your own.

Karen Spears Zacharias is an author of many good books. Read one.


For more on this topic, check out the following:

One child, a $21 million medical bill LA Times

Mega Lottery winner selling estate People

One in Three Go Fund Me campaigns are for medical care Advisory  

Even with Healthcare, Americans can’t afford their medical bills Atlantic 



Karen Spears Zacharias

Author/Journalist/Educator. Gold Star Daughter.

1 Comment

AF Roger

about 4 years ago

Don't know if we are the 'richest nation' on earth, but we sure seem to be the most bull-headed! Americans flat-out REFUSE to look at how health care is delivered in other modern industrialized nations with mostly literate populations. We therefore refuse to see how we might do it at least as well as, say, Japan, Germany, Taiwan, Canada, France, Spain, or the good ol' UK--all nations in which everybody is included and there are no medical bankruptcies. What do these nations have in common? They all spend less per capita on health care than the U.S. Most, if not all, have outcomes equal to or better than Uncle Sam. How could that NOT be good for the economy??? We Americans can't answer that question because we refuse to ask it. Further, health is actually the desired outcome--NOT health care. BTW, only one of the above nations has government- run 'socialized medicine'. Which one? The answer is in T.R. Reid's excellent book on the subject, a book that I doubt 30 members of Congress--and certainly not the President--has read or ever will.


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