Change is scary. As someone who has experienced a great deal of change in her life over the last three years, this is a fact that I know as well as anyone. There’s a great deal of debate going on in the United States these days about health care reform….reform that is long overdue. For the majority of people, those who are employed and relatively healthy, our health care system seems to work just fine….for them. But…if you are self-employed, unemployed or if you suffer from a chronic illness, your perception of the US health care system is likely very different. Our inefficient, inequitable health care system allows 45 million Americans to go without health care and it allows medical expenses to bankrupt 700,000 families each year. Our health care system needs to change and to illustrate why, I’m going to share my story, just one example of how a family can be devastated by illness in our society….
My husband, Larry, is a realtor, one of the top realtors in the Seattle area. As a self-employed person, our health care premiums were expensive so for years I worked to provide health care for our family. Earning just over minimum wage, it wasn’t the income that kept me in my job, it was the health care benefits. As Larry grew in his career and became more successful, I left my job to stay home and raise our two daughters, both straight A honor students who are now on the Dean’s List at their respective universities. Once our youngest had graduated from high school, I planned to go back to work to help pay for their education and save toward our retirement.
The current economic recession hit the real estate industry first. For us, the recession has been going on for more than three years and, for more than three years, our income has fallen short of our expenses. This isn’t unusual in real estate, we’ve gone through slow periods before so we were prepared. We had the recommended 6 – 8 months living expenses in the bank, we invested, we saved toward our daughters’ education and our own retirement. Struggling for six months…we had done that before and we were prepared for that again. Struggling for more than three years was not something that we expected.
In September 2007, after a year of trying to make ends meet, eating up our savings, we needed to do something. I decided to go back to work, a year earlier than we had planned, and we needed to trim our family budget. Our health insurance company had just notified us that our premiums would soon be going up and, as someone who is self-employed, as I said before, those premiums were expensive. We would soon be paying more than $800/ month for a health insurance plan with a $2500 per person deductible. We were all very healthy, we lived active lives and none of us took prescription medication. Our medical experience amounted to one annual check-up each year so one of the places where I chose to trim expenses was health care. We switched to catastrophic insurance ($3500 per person deductible) with no prescription drug benefits. We also decided that I would go back to work and I found a job that would provide excellent benefits and unlimited overtime. The next day I found out that I had cancer……
Our youngest daughter, Amanda, was entering her senior year in high school. Our older daughter, Marie, was going to college in Michigan and I was facing chemotherapy and possible surgery. I didn’t take my new job. Instead, we decided to do whatever it would take to stay in our house for the next year, so that Amanda could graduate with her class and I could battle cancer in my own home. We might need to sell the house the following year but, at this point (the housing market being what it was), there was no equity in the house so it seemed best to try to stay put. I went through two rounds of chemotherapy which did little to reduce the size of my tumor so in October 2008 I had a partial gastrectomy to remove the tumor in my stomach. I am now cancer free but it is difficult to eat, to maintain my weight and my energy levels are low.
My goal for 2009 was to regain my health so that I could go back to work. I joined a health club and was working out on a regular basis. Then, in February, I suffered a grand mal seizure. With a second grand mal seizure in May came the diagnosis of epilepsy…and some very expensive prescription drugs (I spent $479 on my generic prescription medication last week). I can’t drive until the end of the year and I’m too weak to work. We still don’t have prescription drug coverage, we still have the $3500 per person deductible and the real estate market is still in a slump. Our savings and investments are gone, we have no equity in our home, we are deep in debt, we have two daughters in college and last month we talked to a bankruptcy attorney. In addition to my ongoing battle with cancer and epilepsy, I have also been diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm and an ulcer. I’ve chosen to ignore my aneurysm, keep my chemotherapy port in place and forego my annual mammogram to keep our medical bills to a minimum.
If I had the luxury of hindsight, I would have done things differently but, at the time that we made important decisions in our lives, we thought that we were making the right choices, given the circumstances. Unfortunately, life isn’t always fair…..
A truly great nation cares for it’s young, it’s old, it’s sick and it’s veterans. Christians, following Christ’s admonition, care for the least among us (and I am very, very grateful for the support that I’ve received from my church!). The current state of health care in the US, however, begs the question whether we are truly a great nation or, as many would like to claim, a “Christian” nation. We spend more per person on health care than any other nation (15.3% of GDP in 2005) and yet our infant mortality rates in the same year were nearly 3 times that of Sweden and Japan (and double that of Norway, France and Germany). 20% of our health insurance premiums go toward administrative costs while other nations spend just 5%.
We need health care reform in the US. Other countries are doing a much better job providing better, cheaper health care to ALL of their citizens. To learn more, read T. R. Reid’s “The Healing of America” and watch the documentary on Frontline.
As was stated on President Obama’s web site yesterday, “No one should die because they cannot afford health care, and no one should go broke because they get sick”. Please do your homework and support health care reform in the United States!