HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Health Care Stories

RoCali at Daily Kos shares his health care story and asks that others write in to share their stories as well.  The goal is to educate those individuals who still seem to believe that people without health insurance or who become ill are somehow at fault for any failures of the health care system to provide coverage.  RoCali writes,

Here's one story of how living the American dream became a tale of waking up in the American medical insurance nightmare.  This is only one story of millions that are developing right now and the millions that are yet to evolve. I know many of you have your own tale and I would be grateful if you would share it.  Sometimes we start feeling that maybe this was our fault, that we alone got sucked down into this morass, buying into the hype that if we had been smarter or more industrious we could have avoided this.  Let's remind ourselves that we are not some aberrent failure, but rather we got caught in a broken system. 

About 15 years ago, I was 35, working in a local law firm, raising two children, and had a home in a nice family neighborhood. One day, I woke up not feeling so well.  It's that simple when I look back, to recognize the starting point at which my life began to veer off the path I had so carefully laid.  I felt tired and achey.  A couple of days later, a terrible pain started in my back and after a few hours, my fever spiked to 106. I was admitted to the hospital, delirious.  It seemed like no big deal to me when it was determined I had a severe kidney infection.  I was in the hospital for a couple of weeks, yet when I was released I still had an infection, although I was stable.  I had begun a ten year battle to rid my body of a super-infection.  As happens in dominoes and houses of cards, things began to fall in a pattern.

My super-infection battle encompassed repeated bouts of pneumonia, kidney infections, and bizarre systemic infections.  Then came the diagnosis of an auto-immune disorder, followed by muscle and nerve problems in my shoulders, and then joint problems in my hands, feet, and knees.  Recently, after breaking my back and some ribs, it was determined that I have severe osteoporosis, just weeks before my 50th birthday.  Over these years, I had numerous hospitalizations, surgeries, treatments, therapies, and incurred massive medical bills.   When I first lost my job, I was relieved that my spouse's insurance would cover me.  That insurance left with my spouse, who tired of the stress right after we went bankrupt seven years ago. 

The only asset I managed to save between bankruptcy and divorce was the home my children were raised in.  I had to sell it about four years ago when my COBRA insurance ran out and I was forced to turn to HIPPA for medical insurance coverage.  HIPPA was the only program I could find for a middle aged woman with extensive pre-existing conditions.  The premiums were more than double my COBRA payments, with less coverage and much higher deductibles and co-pays.  Each year, HIPPA has lowered my coverage and/or increased my out-of-pocket expenses.  From the equity I garnered when selling my home, I can cover another ten months, possibly, of premiums and co-pays.  I'm still only able to work a few hours a week and that is not likely to change in the immediate future.  At times, I have tried to increase my working hours, only to suffer serious health deteriorations shortly after, setting me back months or even years.  My retirement accounts have long since been spent.  My health care premiums for this are now over $600 per month.  My co-pays for medication alone are about $630 per month at this time.  Without insurance, the costs of just my medications exceed $3,000 per month, so letting health insurance go is not a palatable option.

Please, don't misunderstand me.  I am not laying all these personal details out so someone will say, "oh, how sad."  The point I'm attempting to make here is how easily this can happen, in the blink of an eye, to any of us.  No matter how hard you work, how smart you are, or what great physical shape you keep yourself in, all it takes is an unfortunate moment and the landscape of your life is dramatically altered.  I'm spending my days being grateful I've managed thus far, unlike so many of my fellow citizens who could not keep up and have fallen by the wayside, some to their death. I am truly one of the lucky ones.  I have had a supportive family and sufficient assets to bring me through thus far.  But so many of our neighbors, friends, and co-workers have not been as fortunate as I.  They had nothing to fall back on, they are alone, they are in pain, they are ill, they are frightened, and they see no place left to turn. . . . .

In the wealthy and powerful nation called America, the divide between classes continues to grow.  Many of those that live on the better side of that divide are woefully ignorant of the plight of the other side.  The growing divide is particularly evident in matters of health.  While our nation claims the best medical technology and advances, that is little comfort to the large number of citizens that cannot afford such miraculous treatment.  It's a bit like holding a loaf of bread just beyond the starving person's reach, tantalizing, frustrating, and often breeding despair.  Yet a certain segment of our population remains oblivious.  Their attention is garnered only when their pocketbook is directly affected by taxation or when the unthinkable happens to even them.  They also do not realize the subtle ways this disaster costs them on a daily basis, through increased costs, decreased production in the workplace, and other long-reaching effects of a lack of adequate medical care on a large populace.

Please, share your story with me.  Let's join our voices together until even the other side of the divide cannot help but hear and acknowledge the tumult.  Every time we step in the voting booth, we need to remember the millions of voices asking, not for charity, but begging for a fair shake.  We also need to remember the voices that have been silenced and we bear the responsibility for speaking out in their names.  Disparity thrives best in shadow and silence.  Let us throw the light on this issue and raise our collective voices, if not for ourselves, for those who can't.

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