When I was first out of grad school, I got a job teaching five courses a semester at the college where I’d gotten my master’s degrees. Despite the fact that this was a full-time course load, it was a “visiting lecturer” position, and the university did not legally have to offer me health insurance. When I told my father that I was paying all medical expenses out of pocket, including getting a broken arm set at a quick care and dodging follow-up appointments I couldn’t afford, he told me I could buy health care for “what you spend a month on shoes.”
As he was in most instances where my well-being was concerned, my dad was fucking wrong. COBRA health insurance cost $1,000 a month for me in Louisiana circa 2009, pre-Obamacare, which after taxes and student loan payments was nearly what I made a month. Another man who is wrong about the affordability of health care is Chris Jacobs, an author who spent his morning offering uninvited guesses as to whether or not New York Times writer Elizabeth Bruenig can actually afford her sick kids.
After Bruenig tweeted that due to a job change, she was temporarily without insurance and scared to neglect her baby’s vaccines and earaches but also worried about paying out of pocket, Jacobs gave his unprompted version of my dad’s helpful “buy fewer shoes” speech. He said COBRA would cost “a few grand at most” for a gap in coverage that can’t last more than 90 days under Obamacare restrictions on insurance gaps when switching employers.
He also says he has no sympathy for her sick kid because if she doesn’t have a measly few grand lying around that’s her own tough shit because New York Times reporters most likely make bank.
And while CNBC does report that the median American household has $4,830 in savings, according to Paysa, reporters for the New York Times make somewhere between $61,000 and $87,000 a year—higher than the $30,000 a year I made just out of grad school but not exactly “fuck it I’ll just pay medical bills out of pocket” money. Ultimately, however, it does not matter how much a person does or does not have in savings. Being unable to afford the most expensive healthcare in the entire world is not a moral failing, as Jacobs seems to believe.
Sick kids who just have to stay sick because their parents didn’t save enough is a failing of the country, not the parent. In 2009, I felt guilty and ashamed of the fact that I couldn’t afford my broken arm and just let my dad’s comment pass. He does not read Jezebel, and I doubt Chris Jacobs does either, but to anyone else who happens upon this and feels compelled to explain to another human being that being uninsured is their own fault for not having more money—consider shutting up instead.