Grateful for Obamacare after health scare

Viji Sundaram | 11/7/2012, 7:28 a.m.

“I went several months without pain after that,” said Hamingson, who lives with her divorced mother in Sherman Oaks, a Los Angeles suburb.

She resumed her job search, but almost always came up empty. The part-time jobs she snagged didn’t pay well, and none offered health insurance.

Then in September 2011, after a severe attack of abdominal pain, the young woman saw a gastroenterologist in New York, where she had landed a part-time job as a restaurant hostess. A medical imaging and endoscopy revealed that she had billiary dyskinesia (abnormal movements of the gall bladder). The gastroenterologist told her she should have her gall bladder removed.

Because of the kind of insurance she had, “I would have had to pay out-of-network charges” in the New York hospital, Hamingson said.

That, plus the need to be closer to her family, brought her back to Los Angeles, where the gastroenterologist she consulted with told her the surgery might not work. Initially, Hamingson tried acupuncture, which was covered by her health plan.

“It seemed to work for a while,” she said.

That led the gastroenterologist to urge her to stay on the acupuncture regimen even after the abdominal pain returned last May.

“Looking back, it was completely faulty advice,” Hamingson said.

Rushed to the emergency room

On July 27, Hamingson crumpled over with pain and was rushed to an emergency room from her job at an Italian restaurant. She ended up going to the ER three times over the next 24 hours. The first two times, the ER staff discharged her with pain medication.

“ER folks are only trained to triage and get your pain under control, not to diagnose,” Hamingson said.

It was only after the third attack of prolonged pain that a surgeon she went to decided to take her gall bladder out with minimally-invasive laproscopic surgery. When it came out, the surgeon showed her how badly damaged and scarred it was.

Now fully recovered and back on her feet, Hamingson has resumed her job search, but she worries about her mother. After her parents divorced six years ago, Hamingson’s mom was dropped from her father’s plan. Under ACA, her mom will become eligible for federally subsidized health insurance coverage starting in January 2014.

Neither of the two part-time jobs Hamingson has provides health insurance, and she’s making a little too much to be eligible for Medicaid, the federal-state health care plan for low-income people called Medi-Cal in California.

“It’s scary when people don’t have health insurance,” Hamingson said. “I hope I can find a job that provides health insurance before I turn 26 in December next year.”

This article was made possible by a grant from The California Endowment and was produced as part of New America Media’s series on the Affordable Care Act.