More Than Health Insurance by Marianne Khouri

Never in my life did I think that I would be having dreams about health insurance. I used to have normal dreams about food, homework, and exams, but after six months as a Health and Benefits Advocate at the Health Annex, here I am, dreaming about insurance. I’ve become a complete insurance nerd; I find myself spending hour-long phone conversations telling my friends back home about difficult cases, and greeting my roommates with stories about applying and enrolling people in insurance at the Health Annex.  I have added meaning to the words premium, deductible, and copay, and I have memorized the phone numbers and the hold music for the Department of Human Services.  Yup, classic insurance geek.  My coworkers even asked me if I apply for insurance for fun in my free time. The answer is no, in case you were wondering, but that is beside the point.

At the risk of sounding cliché, as enthusiastic as I am about health insurance, I’m even more passionate about connections that I’ve formed with people while helping them apply for it. I have played with patient’s children while they filled out applications, and cheered with them when they finally got approved. I learned about the importance of faith in Sandy’s* life and connected her to our health center’s mind-body practitioner, so that she could continue her healing process in a way that best suited her needs. I’ve also learned that sometimes helping someone get health insurance isn’t enough. Medicaid meant nothing for Mary* when she didn’t have a ride to the specialist’s office, or when the front desk staff at the dentist didn’t speak her language. I interpreted for Mary over the phone so that she could access the health services that she needed. For Katrina*, applying for health insurance was just the first step in becoming financially independent and stable. She inquired about affordable housing in the area, and I helped her make an email account to start applying for jobs online. For others, I have had incredibly difficult conversations about insurance eligibility guidelines and explain that they will have to wait for the open enrollment period in November to get insurance. All of these interactions have reminded me to look past the “Health and Benefits” part of my position and to focus on being the “Advocate.” Before I can even help patients with their insurance needs, I have to address them as people and determine their priorities without imposing mine.

So while I have health insurance to thank for occupying my thoughts during the day and my dreams at night, I also credit it with helping me form connections in the community of Southwest Philadelphia. I have met incredibly resilient people, with whom I’ve laughed and cried. I have also been challenged to take my blinders off, forget about health insurance, and just talk to people without any strings attached. But, if you ever find yourself in need of some health insurance, you can find me listening to the hold music at my desk in Southwest Philly.

*Names changed for privacy