I thought I’d offer my own experiences as a former congressional staffer of what it was like to have health insurance in Congress. I wrote about being laid off after working for the state government in Texas, and quickly faced the pitfalls of COBRA insurance and the problems with our health insurance system. 

I filed for unemployment a month ago, and was denied unemployment benefits. I’ve been living off my savings ever since being laid off. My savings will dwindle down by the end of this summer, with most of it going to my COBRA premiums. I’ll have paid over $3032 for my health insurance so far in the past eight months. And I still find it hard to believe that my annual premium in Congress was a mere $1068 for health insurance. Americans should have that affordability with their health insurance, and not have to worry about being denied health care like congressional staffers in Congress. 

It’s scary though. I chose to keep my COBRA insurance after I left the U.S. House of Representatives last year because the health insurance benefits offered by my state employer wasn’t adequate. It quickly got expensive for me when I moved to Texas.

My monthly insurance premium in the U.S. House of Representatives under Blue Cross Blue Shield was $89 a month, with the rest of the premium fully subsidized by my employer, which would be you, the taxpayer. I was only denied once by Blue Cross Blue Shield in the three years I was in Congress.

However, when I left the U.S. House of Representatives to work in Texas, I had to bear the full cost of my monthly premium under COBRA. It was now $379 a month instead of the $89 a month. On my state employee salary, it required a lot of belt-tightening and making sure that I always had money left over to pay COBRA. You know what the funny part is? I don’t even use COBRA because I’m afraid they’ll deny me if I go to the hospital or visit a doctor since they’ve done it before. I had food poisoning on New Year’s Eve, missed the family party in South Texas, and had to be taken to the hospital. Blue Cross Blue Shield denied the ambulance transport claim, which was $500 dollars. I couldn’t afford to pay $500 dollars, and the cost from their denial of another claim to pay for the removal of a pre-cancerous cyst. My mother had to end up paying these bills since Blue Cross Blue Shield refused to pay these bills. I learned that just having insurance doesn’t mean they’ll pay. I was lucky to work in Congress for the past three years because they very rarely deny the claims of congressional staffers and their bosses under their health plans.

Since these private insurance plans under FEHB very rarely deny claims to Members of Congress and their staff, it explains why some of these Members of Congress are out of touch and indifferent to the very REAL pain and suffering of millions of Americans under these private insurers.

It’s why I’ve been advocating for a strong, robust Medicare-like public option in the past few months. The public option is the LINE in the sand for me in health care reform. 

If it can happen to me—it can happen to these congressional staffers who work for their bosses who are in charge of determining the passage of health care reform. Please remind them of that when you call your Senators and Representatives, and use the Public Option Whip Tool to ask them to stand firm on the public option and to vote against any bill without a public option.