Health Care Reform from the Perspective of a Dead Woman

Posted: April 23, 2015 in Uncategorized
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Previously published on December 17, 2009, for Yahoo Contributor Network – later published on and removed from Persona Paper. 

Please keep in mind that the article is written from the perspective of a dead woman.

My life was filled with love and with heartache. Just like yours. For most of my life I struggled to make ends meet. Just like you.

Or maybe not just like you, because for most of my life I lived at or below the poverty level. When my children’s fathers ignored their financial responsibilities, my parents and siblings stepped forward to help, because even during those times when I worked at as many as three jobs, I never quite made what I needed to exist.

How could I afford to put a roof over their heads, feed my children, clothe them, purchase their school supplies, or pay for their sporting activities by myself? I would never expect my family to raise my children, so I had to figure out a way to rear them on my own.

But raising children on $17,000 a year was most of the time difficult and oftentimes impossible. I found myself borrowing money from one credit card to pay the monthly fee on another credit card, and when electricity, gas, water, and all of the other housing expenses, including insurance, far exceeded my income, which they generally did, I had to use credit cards to pay for the kids’ ever-growing clothing needs and for food.

Slowly I drowned in a pool of poverty, where, for several years, I struggled, sometimes in vain, to keep my head above water.

Despite my financial situation, I made sure my children never felt poor, because I liked to believe we were rich in spirit and rich in love. I loved my children very much and made sure they ate well and always had clothes and shoes to wear and beds to sleep upon. I saw to it that they became involved in sporting activities that appealed to them, because their health, education, and well-being was of utmost importance to me.

I took care of myself too. But despite maintaining a healthy lifestyle, one day, after my children had grown, I discovered a lump in my breast. Every day it grew noticeably larger. I couldn’t have known, but I suspected, that I was dealing with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

How would I deal with the knowledge that I needed a doctor I couldn’t afford to pay? Over the years, I had used every available penny I earned to pay my bills. I had no bank account from which to draw. With limited income and no insurance, no doctor would even allow me in the office.

The prospect of dying was frightening. I felt so alone. I couldn’t tell my family or friends how much I would miss them when I was gone, because I didn’t want anybody to suspect that I had a potentially fatal disease.

As I saw it, I had only two options: borrow money from loved ones I knew I would never be able to repay or die.

With the cost of health care being so exorbitantly high, and taking into consideration my other medical problems, I decided I couldn’t – and wouldn’t – leave my family destitute. I chose death.

I mourned the loss of my loved ones long before I was gone. I knew they would miss me as surely as I would miss them. But I could see no way out of the financial duress I found myself facing.

My mind spun in circles. When did everything become so out of control? In 1969, though I had no insurance, I gave birth to a daughter. The hospital bill was $300 and the doctor bill cost $200. That $500 was my entire life savings, but my baby’s father, even though I was married to him, had no money going into the marriage, so we used mine. It was a financial loss, but it was necessary and it didn’t decimate me.

By 1975, I was working for a hospital that provided its employees with a generous insurance plan. As employees, we paid very little into that plan, and when I gave birth in 1981, I paid nothing for the hospital bill or for the doctor bill. The insurance paid for everything. I felt blessed and lucky.

By 2006, the world as I knew it had collapsed. Insurance companies were punishing employees who had to use their insurance by denying those employees benefits and by raising premiums. Employees were told to be happy they had jobs. Formerly insured individuals became part of a group of uninsured individuals with “pre-existing conditions” that forever banned them from getting insurance anywhere else – ever.

As a country, we were suffering from a loss of affordable health care. We were also suffering at the hands of greedy pharmaceutical and insurance companies whose profits extended into the billions of dollars while families watched their children die because they couldn’t get care. Hospitals turned patients away because they either didn’t have insurance or didn’t have the proper type of insurance.

I saw the disparity between the wealthy and the poor, the latter of which I was an obvious member. I couldn’t help but wonder when the health of our nation became such a low priority. Was I the only one who could see that a healthy nation made for a great nation?

Democrats and Republicans alike battled over health care reform while people like me were dying all around them. In 2005, 186,467 women and 1,764 men were diagnosed with breast cancer. 41,116 women and 375 men died from the disease that same year.* Could nobody understand that these numbers represented PEOPLE?

By 2009, PROFIT and POLITICS had become more important than PEOPLE. Who really cares about the health of a nation when people take a back seat to politics and profit?

But we are a capitalist country, some argue, as if capitalism excuses moral corruption and greed. So sad that the poor have to die, but so what? Everybody has to die some time. They should have thought about money before they had children. They should have been better prepared with better paying jobs. It’s not our responsibility to pay for their ignorance and lack of preparation.

But suddenly, in the midst of economic crises, formerly wealthy individuals discover that it’s not always a matter of preparation. Just because an individual attends college for four years doesn’t mean that a magic high-paying job awaits him upon graduation. And remaining faithful to one company doesn’t mean that 25 years of loyalty will matter.

Until we become personally affected by financial loss and until our own family member faces a death sentence without any means of affording to live, we neither sympathize or empathize with the plight of our fellow Americans who are facing mountains of debt – we “apathize” – a new term I coined that defines people who really don’t care UNTIL they become personally affected.

Health care reform is not a Republican problem. It is not a Democrat problem. It is not a conservative problem or a liberal problem. Health care reform is a moral issue. People are dying because they cannot afford to stay alive.

And yet hope hovers just above the horizon. Government programs exist to help individuals like myself. I wish I had known about former president Bill Clinton’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000. That Act was designed to give states the option of providing medical assistance through Medicaid. Through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP), eligible women who were screened for and discovered to have breast or cervical cancer, including precancerous conditions, could receive care.

I wish I had known in 2007 that individual states within our United States of America have programs available to help women like me get the care we need to stay alive. In my state, former governor Rod Blagojevich had his office promote the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP) by sending post cards to Illinois residents informing them of the program and encouraging them to participate by providing a phone number. I died never knowing that the IBCCP would have allowed me to receive regular breast and cervical cancer screenings for free or that I might have been eligible to receive treatment for free.

People like me die every day because we don’t want to burden our families with financial destitution. People like me die every day because we live in a country that cares more about its politics than its people. If we could step back from the politics and recognize that the health of a nation is determined by the people who live in our country, we might care more about the people who are dying at the hands of greedy pharmaceutical and insurance companies. We might back the reformers of health care. Sick citizens do not make for healthy countries.

As Senator Ted Kennedy once wrote in a letter to President Barack Obama concerning health care, “What we face is above all a moral issue; at stake are not just the details of policy, but fundamental principles of social justice and the character of our country.”

Socialism and social justice are two entirely different matters. The new health care proposals are not certain to to turn the United States of America into a socialistic country. Our property will not be taken from us if our daughter receives affordable health care. The government will not confiscate our belongings if our father gets treated for a pre-existing condition.

A country that allows its citizens to die because they cannot afford health insurance, a country that places politics and profit above the importance of people is a country whose character has been marred by moral corruption. I could have been your mother, your sister, your daughter, or your friend. Would you have cared then? Would you have paid for my medical treatments? And if you had, would I have allowed you to lose everything you owned just so I could live?

In no other wealthy nation on earth do we have the resources in abundance to treat our fellow human beings with the dignity they deserve but deny them a life simply because they can’t afford to live.

Why?

Afterword: I am a woman who underwent (and who is still taking a chemo drug) treatment for an aggressive form of breast cancer who, thanks to the efforts of President Clinton and Rod Blogojevich, was able to avail myself of the programs that are currently working to save my life.

Many of you will look upon me as somebody who is “taking advantage” of our system. Many of you will have the unfortunate mindset that if I am getting something for free, I must be taking it directly from you. Please be assured that I paid into the system for years and that I too wish I had made a decent income all these years. Sadly I did not.

We live in an increasingly judgmental time when we enjoy accusing others of raping our “system” and while I believe that many people take advantage of government programs, I also believe that we live in a compassionate time when caring individuals come together to show love for humanity simply because we are human and we recognize the need to treat others with respect.

In all honesty, though it pains me to say this in writing, if those programs had not been made available to me, or if I had had lung or some other form of cancer not covered in the available programs, I would not have burdened my family with the financial responsibility of caring for me. They would never have known, unless perhaps they decided to have an autopsy performed, why I died so suddenly.

PLEASE tell your friends and family members who may not be as monetarily wealthy as you are that programs do exist to help them should they become ill and can’t afford to take care of themselves.

It’s time to stop being so divisive. It’s time we realized that we live in a UNITED States of America.

Sources

*http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/statistics/

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Remarks-by-the-President-to-a-Joint-Session-of-Congress-on-Health-Care/

http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/legislation/law106-354.htm

http://www.illinois.gov/PressReleases/ShowPressRelease.cfm?SubjectID=62&RecNum=7253

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Comments
  1. shaheensdarr says:

    What a lot of important issues you have mentioned, well written, heartfelt, poignant, mind provoking….thank you for sharing

  2. Coral says:

    Of course, I have read this before needing to be up and ready for work with little time to respond.

    I had not read this at the other sites before. This is one that has made me think, as I have had issues with the Affordable Care Act that was enacted (but that’s for a different discussion).
    This is one that I need to chew up and taste for awhile, because some things that were presented have my head spinning, which is a GOOD thing.

    Thank you for writing your life and the vulnerability you choose to share. It makes a difference.

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