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Will Americans Ever Get Their Health Care Reform -- And Why I Suddenly Feel Very Lucky to Have AIDS

America, let me welcome you to what those of us with chronic diseases have known all along.
 
 
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Who would have ever guessed that anyone would say they felt lucky to have AIDS? As many Americans leave the land of financial over -- hype and find themselves back on the ground trying to deal with the their new fiscal reality, it makes me realize that I got my proverbial shot in the arm years ago with my AIDS diagnosis. Once you enter that room, you immediately know that life as you once knew it will never be the same again. And I can tell you that is not necessarily a bad thing.

I learned years ago how to juggle my finances in order to make sure I always had enough money to pay for my health insurance. In 1999, when I was 36, I purchased an individual health insurance policy through Blue Shield of California. The policy offered a $1,000 deductible, a rather reasonable co -- payment maximum and high life time maximum. It also included a $50,000 life insurance policy. For this, I paid just under $90 per month. Now, ten years later, and at age 46, I pay nearly $500 per month. Blue Shield also doubled the deductible along the way, offering to allow me to go back to my original one, but that would mean reapplying for insurance -- and you could guess the answer I was going to get.

Please let me explain -- I am not here to knock Blue Shield of California. They have been, in spite of the price increases, rather wonderful to me. When I arrived home from the hospital, after a twelve -- day stay that cost just under $100,000 to them, I received a call from Blue Shield. I was scared to return it, thinking that they were calling to say that my policy way canceled. Instead, the nurse was calling to see if I was okay and if I needed home health care assistance. I said, no, but thanked her for the offer. I instantly told my friends about this -- thinking that it was great that they had my best interest at heart. And I have to say, they usually do.

There was another time Blue Shield came through for me. After my hospital stay, I thought I had gotten through the worst part , but could not have been more wrong. Three weeks after leaving the hospital, I was diagnosed with KS -- Kaposi's Sarcoma -- an AIDS related cancer. My oncologist suggested three possible treatment protocols -- radiation, chemo, and this very, very new drug -- Panretin Gel. She said that the Gel was her preferred choice, but that it was so new most insurance companies did not cover it. I contacted Blue Shield -- not only did they cover it, but the co -- payment was only $25. The Gel's full price was $2800 per tube. It was worth every single penny, for what was left of the cancer literally melted away nightly.

I read these stories in the media of people not being able to afford their COBRA payments and their mortgages. The upside to having AIDS was that I was never able to afford that sub prime mortgage, I didn't have a home to get a line of credit on, didn't take multiple vacations a year which maxed out my credit cards, for I was too busy trying to stay alive and figure out how to pay for my medical bills. I learned this entire set of skills that most Americans now have to acquire very quickly. I knew years ago that keeping up with the Joneses was not just no longer on the table, but not good for my health. I also learned that in order to stay alive and be healthy, I had some choices to make, and that included not going on vacations, and not buying that condo that seemed like such a good idea at the time, and always making sure that I had money for my health insurance and other related medical expenses.