Superstitious folks might look at a clock at 11:11 and make a wish. If Bonnie Swan was superstitious, she would say her wishes are finally coming true.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic many people have lost jobs or been furloughed, but Bonnie has been lucky. She has a new job as a Child Protective Service worker for the great state of West Virginia. The 12-week training program is exciting for her as she will be serving the community and helping children. And she will have health insurance via the state sponsored PEIA program. Affordable insurance is one of the reasons Bonnie is happy to take on this new and challenging job.
Going without health insurance for 11 years has had its ups and down for Bonnie, “I get sick all the time, probably from the inflammation.” Bonnie lives a chronic condition, diagnosed at the age of eleven, called Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT) Disease. Bonnie has come to learn and understand her body better than most out of necessity. The degenerative nerve disease not only impacts her immune system with regular inflammation bouts, but she also has a right leg and a right hip which are smaller than the left limbs, along with missing muscle and nerve activity.
Eleven years without health insurance and living with the condition since age eleven (11:11) has been a tough journey for Bonnie. The rising costs of health care and health insurance plans, stagnant wages, and employers who do not offer benefits have impacted many West Virginians like Bonnie who work in the service industry.
While Bonnie recently began her new role with the state, she was formerly a Case Manager for adults with intellectual disabilities and development issues. Before that she worked in the food service industry, where she had been working since her teenage years.
“My work ethic is my most redeemable quality. I’ve worked full time since about age 15.”
This work ethic is actually typical of many young West Virginians who work part-time or full-time jobs while going to school. Bonnie attended West Virginia University (WVU) for several years while working. During her years at WVU, she struggled with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) until she was diagnosed, “I got put on meds which helped me keep up with other college students.” Bonnie still pays a regular $50 bill per visit to continue see her doctor and continue her ADD medications
Working full-time and being a full-time student was difficult -- along with being away from her family. So, in 2011 Bonnie moved back home to Kanawha county to be near her family and continued her work at the Panera restaurant and then at the Wingate hotel. She went back to school at West Virginia State University (WVSU) while continuing to work full time in the service industry.
When Bonnie did get sick, again during her 11 years without health insurance, she went to Health Right in Charleston, WV, “They made me feel so comfortable seeking health care. Nothing was about money, there was no discussion about it, there was just health care.” One time, Bonnie needed a referral for a breast biopsy to CAMC. The lump was taken out and it was non-cancerous, but the bill still came in and there has been a $2,000 ding on her credit since that time.
“That’s why I’ve been staying at home most of the time. I have to be careful when I go out to eat and drink, inflammatory types of food are not good for me.”
Bonnie knows how to take care of herself and what her body needs, she takes supplements, exercises, drinks green smoothies, and cares for her body. She has already filled out the application for a Primary Care Physician for her new insurance plan that started on July 1 and shared, “I’m so excited to get on with the state because I don’t need a primary doctor to tell me how beneficial physical therapy services would be.”
Some West Virginians test lady luck by going without health insurance. Bonnie wanted insurance but found that thee plans on the Affordable Care Act state marketplace were too expensive for her monthly budget – even with the premium subsidy. To understand why Bonnie and other West Virginians cannot afford the health insurance premiums (often paired with high deductibles), we reached out to the WVAHC Director of Policy, Kat Stoll and she explained three of the reasons why health insurance is still unaffordable for many West Virginians, “First, the cost of underlying health care is increasing – that is, medical inflation increases costs every year. Second, people who are sicker are buying insurance and there is nothing that forces healthier people to buy insurance which increases the cost of health insurance for everyone. And third, we are not using a state system of reviewing premiums that maximizes the size of the premium tax credit (sometimes called “silver loading") meaning everyone eligible for a subsidy is getting less financial help than they should.”
Bonnie has not eligible for Medicaid because she made too much money monthly to qualify for Medicaid services in West Virginia. Bonnie has navigated many health insurance options on her own in her spare time while working full-time at multiple jobs, continuing her education, and earning a degree, establishing her social services career, and caring for her mom and community members. That experience gives her valuable expertise in the realities people face in our health care system.
It is folks like Bonnie who will continue to lead the West Virginia Health Care for All Campaign, with policy agenda items such as a Medicaid Buy-In. This policy – if passed in West Virginia - would provide a more affordable and quality health insurance plan on the state ACA marketplace to individuals like Bonnie who today fall in the health insurance affordability gap.
Ensuring all West Virginians have access to affordable health care coverage and health care is the end goal of this campaign. If you have a health care story you want to share which could help impact policy on the state and federal level, reach out to our Story Collection Coordinator at [email protected] or call/send a text message to 304-702-6708.