(Reuters/Jose Luis Magana)
I grew up in a small town in northern Minnesota, which had one small hospital and one anesthesiologist—my father. Thus, I grew up watching him being called away from dinner for emergency c-sections, chainsaw accidents, appendix ruptures, you name it. This instilled in me a very real sense of how ill health or a catastrophic accident could be just around the corner—for anyone.
It seemed a bit at cross purposes that I planned as a child to be a novelist and wanted an employment situation that was stable and provided insurance. I also wanted to live in New York City, because that’s where the writers and publishers were.
I started planning early; in college, for my major, I deliberately chose economics because I felt that would give me the most flexibility in terms of job choices and make me the most marketable for a “real” (i.e., insurance-paying) job that would be remunerative enough for me to live in New York.
I worked first at Data Resources, Inc., an econometric forecasting firm that was part of McGraw-Hill. They specialized in the kind of multiple regression analyses that I used to write my honors thesis, “Economic Development and Women’s Labor Force Participation in the Third World,” and, as I did while writing my thesis, I more or less hated every minute of it.
Later, I moved to Goldman Sachs for a position in equity research, and also hated more or less every minute of that job, too, but not only was I paid well, including annual bonuses (which allowed me to squirrel away money for my eventual escape), I was also treated to the kind of gold-plated corporate health insurance that even we peons got a taste of. My McGraw-Hill medical insurance had been pretty standard, including some encouragement to join an HMO as a cost-saving measure. But at Goldman, not only could we see any doctor we wanted, we even had a full-time office to facilitate health-related issues: they handed out lists of near-to-the-office doctors who were recommended, they had preventive health resources, such as regular in-office skin cancer screenings, and it was as close to a frictionless, moneyless, paperless system as could be—no out-of-pocket premiums, no deductibles, no co-pays.
I also hadn’t had dental coverage at DRI, but now when I visited my East Side dentist not only was everything covered, including every-six-month cleanings and thousands of rads worth of X-rays, a couple of times I received money back because my dentist had somehow been overpaid by my luxurious plan.
During those years, I wrote by getting up at 4 am to get in a few good hours before my subway commute to work—for which I had to get in early and often did not leave until very late at night. By basically jettisoning most of my social life, I completed an entire novel, but efforts to find an agent and sell it were coming to naught. So I started on another novel and dreamed of a time when I could write full time. Goldman had a generous vacation policy, and I used one of my weeks to write—and ended up happily working on new my novel for the entire time. Clearly, I was ready to be a full-time writer, but the mechanics my life weren’t ready for me. Without health insurance, I didn’t know what I would do.