By: Elena Miller-ter Kuile

My family was one of the first Hispanic families to come to the San Luis Valley in the 1860’s.  Since then, we have continued to farm in the same area as our ancestors.

When I first told my dad I wanted to farm and continue our family legacy, he looked at me like I had lost my mind.  Despite his misgivings, I returned from college, excited and ready to try our new sustainable farming experiments. But the one thing about trying to make money off the farm is that you need money to make money, and I was having a hard time getting by.

So I applied for a job in “town”.  It was a great job, and I was excited to get started.  The Affordable Care Act had just  passed and I was able to stay on my parents’ healthcare plan until I turned 26!  With farming and work, I was glad to have one less thing to worry about. However, I would soon age out of my parent’s plan, but could then get coverage through my job in town. 

I consider myself a very healthy person, and I pride myself in taking good care of my body.  I get tons of exercise and I eat well.  But despite the best health decisions, life happens.  All my life I had a hard time staying awake.  I always blamed it on poor sleeping habits.  I had always been a bit of a night owl and I figured I just didn’t get enough sleep. 

Everyday driving to work was a struggle.  It was embarrassing.  I would leave work to take a nap and I would return sleepy-eyed and frustrated, because it just meant another night working later than usual to make up hours and even less time to spend working on the farm. 

I was so frustrated, I finally asked my doctor.  I explained how hard it was to get through a day at work.  I worried about my driving. I would nod off without any warning and was worried I might hurt someone.  I slept 8 hours a night and I couldn’t think of a reason I felt so tired.  My doctor referred me to a sleep specialist.  After many tests, the doctors concluded that I suffered from hypersomnia, which is basically sleepiness for unknown reasons.  Based on my struggles, they gave me some medication to help me stay awake.

My dream was to farm but farming is difficult financially, and being mostly self-employed, it is hard to find health insurance.  Although I was scared to leave my job in town because it offered great health insurance and other benefits, I finally took the plunge and quit to continue farming.  I knew that soon Colorado would have its health exchange up and running, but for now, I needed to find health insurance fast. I found coverage through the same company as my parents.  As an individual with no children, the options were terrible!  I found a plan that I could afford, but the deductible was $7500 and it would only cover 50% of specialty care.  Other plans had better coverage but they cost 300 +/ month.  I had just quit a good paying job, I was working on building a farming business and a more comprehensive plan was just not in my means.

I postponed doctors’ appointments, because I dreaded to see the bill.  Some old running injuries from high school started to flare up, but I couldn’t afford the $100 + bill for physical therapy.  I avoided going to see my sleep specialist.  I even had one bill almost go to collections because I didn’t have the money to pay it.  Luckily, the doctors and hospitals were willing to give me time as I tried to figure out better coverage options.

When the Colorado exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, eventually opened the website wasn’t perfect, but I finally felt like I was moving in the right direction.  With the tax credit, I found a plan where I only pay $143/month and the coverage is amazing.  I now have a $1,500 deductible and I get coverage for things like mental health and specialty care.  I was even able to find dental insurance, which I have never had before.  

So I guess sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too.  I can continue to create my own farming business and I am not stuck driving to town each day just to keep health coverage. I know our country can still improve in ensuring affordable healthcare for all, but I think we are moving in the right direction. I can now happily live my dream of farming thanks to the Affordable Care Act.  No one should have to choose between being healthy and following their dream.  Making healthcare more accessible and affordable will only make our country stronger and allow people like me to make decisions not out of fear of losing something, but with the confidence that something innovative and new will lead to great things.

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