At one time, this profession was a ticket to the upper middle class with all the benefits it entails, including great healthcare coverage. However, that is simply not the case anymore, as colleges move more and more to hiring adjunct instructors with greatly reduced pay and no benefits. Because the University of North Florida (UNF) does not value my life enough to provide me with health insurance, subsidized insurance through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is all I have ever been able to qualify for and afford.
In the past, unless they could receive coverage from work, transgender people, like myself, have typically had trouble finding decent health coverage because transition-related expenses were deemed “pre-existing conditions” or “non-essential treatment,” so buying an individual insurance plan to help with costs was foolhardy since it would do almost nothing and result and constantly increased premiums. This, of course, is despite the consensus of the majority of psychology and endocrinology professionals deeming such treatments as effective. Before Obamacare, insurance companies could weasel their way out of anything at all. “You have a broken leg? Well, you chose to have legs to begin with, so that’s a pre-existing condition that we’re not going to pay for. You were born male? You clearly don’t need estrogen to be yourself and stop feeling miserable, but we’ll pay for testosterone and Viagra so you can play football and get a raging erection.”
One would think that with UNF’s strict non-discrimination policy including gender identity that the school would be more than happy to provide effective health insurance to its only out transgender professor. Unfortunately, that professor is stuck in the adjunct hole, from which there is no escape. The number of courses and overall work that we can do for the university is limited just so the administration can avoid giving us health insurance—never mind the fact that grading and lesson plans combined with teaching very often result in work weeks of over 40 hours, just not on paper.
Why not give adjuncts insurance? In fact, why not pay us a living wage? Well, that would cut into the budget of hiring a new assistant provost or coach for over six figures. It would cut into the budget for building new buildings of amenities to attract richer students. And besides, adjuncts are supposed to be donating their time and are supposed to have full time jobs that give them insurance. Yes, because it’s totally possible for me to have a 9-to-5 job when none of my classes have ever started after 5 PM. I’m being sarcastic—this is bullshit.
This was why, when I started my transition, I was paying upwards of $500 for endocrinologist visits and blood tests with no insurance. Hormones were affordable enough ($6 for oral estradiol and $42 for large doses of spironolactone monthly), as were the therapist visits at a pity rate of $75, but everything else was killer. However, while running outside one day in 2013, I fell down and badly hurt my leg. It wasn’t broken, but it hurt badly and was likely damaged in some way. I refused to see a doctor because I was already spending so much money on transition-related expenses. I had no primary care provider and no insurance, so I refused to seek treatment.
With an ineffectual university, the Affordable Care Act was a Godsend for me because I could finally afford decent health insurance that would cover the services I needed. Suddenly, I was spending very little in comparison, with my blood tests even being free. I was very lucky that my adjunct income just barely put me above the Medicaid gap, which would leave me with no insurance since Florida’s vampire governor, Rick Scott, refused federal funding to expand Medicaid for no other reason than making President Obama look bad.
I saved so much money that I was finally able to seek treatment for other health concerns, like my attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which had never been diagnosed after 28 years of life, despite me showing many obvious symptoms throughout childhood and adulthood. My mother always denied it because I didn’t get in trouble at school very often and I got consistently good grades. As an adult, I had so many issues with productivity and time management that I thought I was simply inadequately skilled for the real-world until I started looking into the symptoms of adult ADHD. After receiving a prescription for appropriate ADHD medication, suddenly I was able to concentrate. Instead of spending an hour grading a single freshman essay, I reduced the time to a mere 20 minutes. I suddenly had so much time open up to me that used to be spent being distracted by things I often wasn’t even interested in. I even got a second job as an online tutor because of this, so my pathetic adjunct income increased a bit (not enough).
However, without insurance that same ADHD medication would be $100 dollars per dose, and the psychiatrist visits would cost $200. If I lose my health insurance, my work productivity will decrease.
Last April, I contracted a horrific case of food poisoning bad enough for me to be hospitalized. Without insurance, I may not have gone to the hospital, which possibly would have resulted in my death.
Unfortunately, Donald Trump and the Republicans plan to take my insurance away. Hans Tanzler, the new Republican Congressman of my district (FL-4) campaigned on the usual “Repeal and Replace™” but never actually said what he would “Replace” it with. The same has been true of basically every other Republican. They’re so hell-bent on the repeal that they will forsake so many underpaid workers who have no access to insurance. This would also drive up rates for everyone.
Now, I will be the first to admit that the Affordable Care Act is flawed. Because of increased demand for coverage, the insurance companies have been raising rates for everyone with no end in sight. In fact, rates will never go down as long as CEOs want to be paid more and more. People need health coverage, so of course they will buy insurance and the demand will always be there.
The only viable solution is to abolish the entire health insurance industry and move to a single-payer Medicare-for-all system. Such a system would allow even the most underpaid workers, including adjuncts, to access affordable healthcare by bypassing what is ultimately a useless industry that has no reason to exist. Healthcare costs would not keep increasing, at least at the same rapid rate, if the necessity of insurance companies were simply removed. The biggest problem with Obamacare is that insurance companies still exist.
The Republican plan? Tax breaks for the wealthy. The wealthy can afford healthcare and are clearly unwilling to provide it to those they employ. Apparently, the lives of those born with silver spoons are the only ones worth preserving. This is no different from college administrators, willing to raise their own salary with full benefits, but unwilling to do the same for rank-and-file instructors. Professors who have a right to healthcare are a dying breed, thanks to schemes to cheap out with the transient part-time designation of adjunct.
UNF and the Republican Party have clearly signaled to me that my life is pointless and does not deserve to be preserved. With no insurance through my job or my government and no direct path for promotion to full-time, my life is forfeit. My work teaching the next generation of professionals and my level of expertise in my field apparently do not matter. Their greed, elitism, and shortsightedness may very well result in the Death of an Adjunct.
This is the second entry in my Death of an Adjunct series. My first is about Unemployed Summer.