A few days ago, the esteemed (*ahem*) governor of the Golden State, in defense of his proposed solutions to California's budget crisis, sent a letter to state employees (like me) to explain that the "emergency steps" he seeks to put into place "will require sacrifice from everyone." I am of the belief that it is better to be forced to take two unpaid days off each month and keep one's benefits than it is to join the increasing unemployment rolls and if this were an option for me, I wouldn't complain too much about it. I could deal with the loss of two days pay each month as long as I didn't lose my health care benefits. Unfortunately, the "sacrifice" that the Governator is asking of me, and others in the same situation who teach in the CSU system, is to take a much more significant cut in pay due to budget cuts that have forced campuses to cancel classes plus risk losing our health care benefits.

I need to teach at least two classes (6 units) per semester to maintain my health care benefits. While several family members suggested that I avail myself of the opportunity to go on disability, I prefer to teach as long as I can. In order to teach and keep my health insurance, I requested a reduced load from my department chair following the Chiari diagnosis and subsequent decompression surgery in 2006. A reduction in my teaching load would mean a reduction of stress, which in turn would reduce the likelihood of headaches and seizures and allow me to continue teaching. This plan worked well for me and my department until this fall semester when my load was reduced from two classes to just one due to budget cuts. Had it not been for the fact that I was able to pick up another class in a different department, I would have lost my health care benefits in August.

Anyone with a pre-existing condition will understand the panic I felt at the thought of losing my health care. At this point, I am uninsurable thanks to the myriad pre-existing conditions precipitated by the Chiari and Epilepsy. Without health insurance, there is no way in hell that Ali and I could afford to cover my medical expenses out of pocket. And if I were to go the disability route, Ali, who also has issues that require long-term care and medication, would be in the same boat as I -- no coverage and uninsurable on private plans. Knowing this, I contacted HR to check out my options. What I learned is that my twelve years of service (eleven of which included 9-15 units per semester) when combined with my 50th birthday this coming May makes me eligible for an early retirement WITH all my benefits! Although I truly do not want to retire so early, I see no other viable options that will guarantee I keep health insurance. And so, I plan to end my teaching career at the conclusion of the Spring 2009 semester.

So Mr. Governator, please don't ask me to make any more sacrifices. Don't red-line the CSU budget any further than you already have for in doing so, you place my very health at risk. If I am unable to keep two classes for the upcoming semester, I will lose my health care benefits, and even retirement won't protect me; in order to retire with benefits, I must be on the insurance plan at the time of retirement!
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