Parents Talk Back

I started hearing more cancer announcements than birth announcements this year.

There have been a succession of people -- co-workers, dear friends, high school and college mates -- who have shared their life-changing diagnoses recently. It makes sense as part of getting older, but I hadn’t expected it.

I couldn’t talk when my younger sister told me her husband had been diagnosed with lymphoma. I cried on my way to work that morning, but made sure my voice was encouraging when I spoke to her later.

Like most people, upon getting word of someone’s illness, I’ll send a card or drop off a meal, ask for updates and be as positive as possible. And, of course, I’ll pray.

This is what we do in America when someone gets really sick or hurt: pray for their healing and for good health insurance coverage. Because unlike every other developed, wealthy country in the world, it’s a gamble when someone in your family needs medical treatment here. Are you lucky enough to have adequate insurance? Or will trying to save your loved one’s life bankrupt your family?

Our complicated, inefficient and morally suspect system of health care is well-known. The United States spends more per capita on health care than any other country in the world. And yet, 30 countries have longer life expectancies than ours. We are the only country in the world that has the means to cover every resident, but that has decided every person doesn’t deserve health care. We have the highest rate of people dying from preventable diseases among similar countries. In 2013, more people died in the United States from preventable diseases or complications than those in 12 other high-income countries, according to data from the European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies.

When you get a little older, you don’t just hear statistics in health care debates. You see the faces of people you love who are living with chronic diseases and those who are fighting to get healthy.

Politicians have been trying to fix our system for years. But the underlying value shouldn’t be a partisan issue at all. We should start from the basic assumption that every American is worthy of care, and that it shouldn’t bankrupt them. What could be more pro-life than making sure people can afford medical treatment when they are sick? What could be a greater commitment to family values than making sure parents can take a sick baby to a doctor? Who would tell a gravely ill member of their family that they didn’t deserve medicine or care?

No one would.

A civilized society takes care of its sick. Partly because every adult knows it could be them next time. It could be your child, your parent.

This past year, we watched disabled activists protest in wheelchairs to save health care coverage. We saw a late-night comedian cry while telling us about the medical procedures that saved his newborn’s life, begging Congress to ensure all babies get the same fighting chance. Millions of Americans called their representatives relentlessly, groveling for their lives, asking that basic protections like not getting dropped for a “pre-existing condition” stayed part of the law.

President Donald Trump signed an executive order in October that will impact millions with pre-existing conditions. Soon after, 18 patient organizations, including the Arthritis Foundation and the American Heart Association, issued a joint statement.

“This order has the potential to price millions of people with pre-existing conditions and serious illnesses out of the individual insurance market and put millions more at risk through the sale of insurance plans that won’t cover all the services patients want to stay healthy, or the critical care they need when they get sick,” read the statement.

And now, the Senate is considering a tax bill that also has major implications for health care coverage impacting millions of us. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office expects everyone’s insurance to cost 10 percent more if the Senate GOP is successful. The House already passed a version of the tax bill in which Americans who have serious chronic conditions or pay for nursing home care or high-cost medications can no longer deduct medical expenses.

Meanwhile, we read about people like Alec Raeshawn Smith, a 26-year-old who started to ration his insulin after he aged out of his parents’ health insurance. He died in June. And like Shane Patrick Boyle, who started a GoFundMe campaign in February to raise money for “a month of insulin.” A few weeks later, he died after developing diabetic ketoacidosis.

Boyle’s family shared this post on a GoFundMe appeal to raise money for his memorial service:

“My cousin, Shane Boyle, put everything into taking care of his ailing mother at the expense of his own needs. Shane’s mother, Judy Boyle, passed away on March 11th and we lost Shane to diabetes exactly a week later on March 18th. After his death, we learned that Shane lost his prescription benefits when he moved to Mena, Arkansas to care for his mom. We found a GoFundMe where he was trying to raise $750 to get just one more month of insulin and supplies.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t get help in time. Shane died because he was trying to stretch out his life-saving insulin to make it last longer.”

In America, we have people begging for insulin.

And we pray.

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