It was my twice-a-week migraines that prompted my wife to call the United Way's 211 helpline and make an appointment for me to see a doctor at a local clinic.
"Keep it or cancel it," she told me. "It's your choice."
I'd made a long list of excuses as to why I hadn't done anything about those debilitating headaches. Fear of what I'd find out was first, but the expense was near the top of my list.
I reasoned that because I didn't have health insurance I couldn't afford to be sick. I ended up going to the clinic and found that the cost of avoiding the doctor was much greater than a bill.
That was seven years ago. I was 29 years old when I found out I had high blood pressure. It was a shock to have the doctor holding my arm, inflating the cuff and telling me that I had to go to the hospital ... right then. My blood pressure hit 220 over 180, and I could easily have had stroke that day.
Even though I had a slew of bad habits — smoking, fried food and being mostly sedentary — I couldn't believe it had all caught up with me so soon.
A lot of people find themselves in this mess, debating on whether to gamble with their body or their bank account. That quandary, says Legal Aid Society of Greater Cincinnati senior attorney Trey Daly, is all too common. There are 55,000 people who are uninsured in the city of Cincinnati and 286,000 in the Greater Cincinnati area.
Daly works on the Cover Cincy campaign, which connects local people who are uninsured with coverage and health care services. Cover Cincy is conducting a healthcare enrollment blitz Saturday and May 3 as part of Cover the Uninsured Week.
Daly says folks can learn about whether they qualify for Medicaid, should seek private insurance or are best off going to local clinics.
"There's a significant chunk of people who are uninsured for a long period of time and many others who pass in and out of uninsured status," he says.
Daly says life and job circumstances change a person's ability to pay for expensive premiums. Besides the chronically uninsured, there's also the problem of the underinsured who feel cornered into balancing their health against their wallet.
"These are folks who have insurance at least in name, but because of the copay and deductibles they're stuck with large payments and still can't afford the cost of health care," he says.
Cover the Uninsured Week is national initiative started by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation six years ago to help the 47 million Americans, including 9 million children, without insurance.
Daly says Cover Cincy representatives work with people to sift through the various programs and services, often tagged with confusing acronyms. He mentions SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program, as an example.
"These often have not very artful names," he says.
Some people stumble over the income requirements of health coverage programs. Others just don't know how to get the information they need. Daly says it can be quite confusing without assistance.
COVER CINCY representatives will be present at 15 local Kroger stores advising locals on health coverage and health care for the uninsured. Those who complete health care applications receive a Kroger gift card. The free program is 9 a.m.-noon Saturday and May 3. For more info, call the United Way at 211 or check out www.covercincy.org.