Obamacare and Me: Tonia McMillian

The California resident will no longer have to carry the financial burden of health-care costs.

Posted: 10/11/2013 12:15 PM EDT

Once upon a time Tonia McMillian never imagined that she would become a health-care statistic. But in addition to having a thyroid condition, she is one of 7 million non-elderly African-Americans who are uninsured, though not for long.

McMillian, 54, is also one of millions of Americans who will benefit from the Affordable Care Act when it goes into full effect on Jan. 1. And she cannot wait to get some Obamacare.

"Having the opportunity to get affordable health care is so important to me and others, who have long awaited this kind of break," she said.

The Bellflower, California, resident owns and operates Kiddie Depot, a home-based family childcare business. She had previously worked as an executive assistant for FHP Healthcare, but when the company downsized, her department was eliminated. McMillian decided to strike out on her own, but that also meant she would be fully responsible for her health-care coverage. Her son, now 18, was covered by the state-sponsored Healthy Families program.

"I couldn't afford it. I have a pre-existing condition, which forces me to end up dropping my coverage each time I've purchased it, so I've been paying out of pocket," she told BET.com. "I would say that about 70 percent of family child care providers who are single don't have coverage."

McMillian had to spend some time in the hospital a few months ago and during her stay, she said, her main concern was how much each test or procedure would cost her.

"My main concern was the bills. The doctors would say they want to do this test and that test and every time I told them I couldn't afford it," she said. "Of course I ended up having them, but now owe more than $15,000 that I can't pay."

As soon as she was able to, McMillian visited Covered California to get information about the state's insurance exchange.

"I put in my information and my son's and I was just floored because the amount to cover us both was in the range of $183 per month," she said. "That is extremely affordable for me."

Seeing how strongly opposed to the law congressional Republicans are, going so far as to shut down the government, makes her mad.

"They have excellent health care and could care less about me and aren’t going to pay my bills," she said. "They're trying to do everything they can to hurt the president, but they're not hurting him they're hurting people like me."

It also has charged her up even more to help spread the word.

"At a community event I said do not let the Obamacare discussion stop inside your houses. Tell somebody. Think of five people you know and tell them about the [law] and then ask them to tell five more people," she said.

McMillian also has been working with her local education workers union to share information, and has been amazed by how little people understand it.

"I sent an email to all the providers I know with a phone number for Covered California and told them they also could call or email me if they wanted to talk about it," she said. "I immediately got about 12 messages. A friend who owns a daycare center asked me to come to talk to her staff."

McMillian isn't claiming to be an expert on the issue; she just wants to learn everything about it that she can and pass it on.

"I'm on a mission," she says.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter.  

 (Photo: Kiddie Depot)

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