This Professor's Secret Could Save Your Life

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This Professor’s Secret Could Save Your Life

By Roberta Riley, Northwest Health Law Advocates

Photo credit: Anastasia Rodionova

Professors lead cushy lives. They get to stroll the grounds of stately, ivy-covered campuses, tailed by flocks of eager students who revere them as intellectual giants. Or so I’d always thought.

Then I met Susan. Susan is a smart, highly-educated professor. She lives in the Tacoma area where she works hard preparing lessons, grading papers and quizzes, and faithfully responding to every student inquiry.  Students praise her teaching skills.

But none of these things matter to her employer. Despite consistently high performance reviews, Susan never knows if she will see another paycheck. Susan is a so-called “adjunct professor” with a for-profit corporation that runs an online university. She is paid a low hourly wage and receives no benefits. For these reasons, and the secret she harbors, her name has been changed to protect her innocence. Basically, she’s a PhD who leads the life of a "digital nomad."

According to Lynne Dodson, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, “dozens of online, for-profit universities exploit adjunct professors by imposing all sorts of anti-worker terms.” Students also get short shrift at these institutions, described in a recent US News report as, “predatory debt mills that favor a corporate bottom line over students' success.”

Susan’s employer does not know that a few months ago, she was diagnosed with cancer. Out of sheer determination, she managed her classload and met her academic responsibilities as she went through surgery and chemotherapy to save her life. No medical leave, no sick days.

The worst is over, thank goodness. Her doctors are optimistic she is cured, and her medical bills are fully paid. "The Affordable Care Act literally saved my life. I could not have paid for all of this care had I been diagnosed with cancer a few years ago, when I was working as an uninsured adjunct professor."

Yet Susan lives in fear that if her employer gets any inkling of her cancer, she will lose her job. Her situation reveals the cruelty of what happens when workers are forced to sign away every legal right they have attained through the democratic process. Fortunately for Susan and many others, our new health law grants Americans the opportunity to sign up for affordable health coverage. And that is peace of mind nobody can take away.

It doesn’t matter what job you do, you may qualify. 1All employer-provided plans must now include 10 health essentials and cost 9% or less than the employee’s income. =smaller>

If your plan fits this description, you can go on the Health Insurance Marketplace (, but you would probably not qualify for subsidies or discounts, which means paying full price.

If your employer’s plan costs more than 9% of your income and does not have the 10 health essentials, then you are permitted to purchase a plan on the marketplace and could qualify (depending on income) for tax subsidies and discounts.

Open enrollment starts November 1 through January 31, 2016 so if you know someone who needs health insurance, please tell them to sign up at: or

1Source: Working America