2020 was the year we all needed health insurance

Let's make 2021 the year it's not tied to having a job

medical staff treating patients in a gym

In 2020, too many people who lost their job due to COVID-19 also lost their health care. That's not right, writes Lola E. Peters. (Matt M. McKnight/Crosscut)

It started Jan. 7. I was cold, all the time cold. By the 10th I couldn’t stop coughing. But I’m stubborn and was sure I could get through another bout with the flu. I was most angry at getting a flu shot and still being sick. 

By Jan. 10, I had a fever and chest-rattling cough. Hot peppermint tea, honey, oregano, Neti Pot treatments; nothing worked. I curled up in bed over the weekend and went through box after box of tissues. On Wednesday, the 15th, the fever spiked at 103 degrees and finally broke. 

On the 17th I went to the doctor. She diagnosed severe bronchitis, put me on a low-dose prednisone regimen, and told me to use my inhaler. 

My brother was planning a celebration for my birthday, less than a week away, and I wondered if it should be postponed or canceled. Day by day, I recovered, but the cough was incessant, persistent. By the time we gathered at Salty’s on the 21st, I was functional, but the cough, the unending cough, punctuated every attempt at speech. I struggled to find enough breath for an entire sentence. Food had no smell and tasted bland.

Feb. 3 I returned to my primary care doctor, who put me on a second, higher dose, prednisone regimen. Three weeks later she sent me to a cardiologist. Three weeks after that, I saw a pulmonary specialist. On a March 11 return visit to the cardiologist he asked, “Has anyone considered you may have coronavirus?”

Eleven months later and my voice is a gravelly version of its old self. I used to have a three-octave vocal range, now the slightest attempt at singing results in a sore throat for at least a day. Once able to hang out at music venues until at least midnight, now I’m tired by 5 p.m. 

I am grateful: to be alive; to pay my $145 monthly Medicare premium; for a kind landlord; for excellent internet access; to be able to work from home; for West Seattle Thriftway and its immediate pivot to curbside grocery service. And I am most grateful that no one at my birthday dinner became ill.

What have I learned? Here is just one highlight. Health insurance shouldn’t be tied to whether you have a job. I’m old enough to receive a monthly payout from the annuity plan I paid into for over 40 years, called Social Security, and be covered by Medicare. That guaranteed income allowed me to stay home from my part-time work while I was sick without stressing about paying my bills. Because my health insurance is covered by the monthly premiums deducted from my Social Security check, I did not hesitate to go to the doctor or see the specialists needed. How many of the millions who are now out of work live in daily terror of getting COVID-19? How many have died engulfed in that fear? We can fix this in 2021.

About the Authors & Contributors

Lola E. Peters

Lola E. Peters

Lola E. Peters is a contributing columnist covering politics, culture and social justice.