Like many, I am frequently disheartened by the policy being made in Washington. Today’s lawmakers do not seem to reflect any awareness of the reality that most Americans fight to survive every day.
A few days ago I was listening to the radio, and was so thankful to hear Senator Sanders introduce Medicare For All. It is so encouraging to hear a handful of senators stand behind a bill that has compassionate and humanitarian motives.
While I understand this bill has a slim chance of passing during this Congress, I don’t want to see it forgotten by the time 2020 rolls around.
The idea of Medicare For All may not seem necessary until you are confronted with a medical situation that demands immediate extensive care. I came up against that scenario this year, and I felt compelled to share my story in the hopes that it will personalize the need for healthcare for all.
On March 17th my father, who was recently unemployed due to his job closing, walked into the Emergency Room with no health insurance.
In the months leading up to his hospitalization my mother and I noticed a peculiar shift in his attitude but we attributed it to the stress of being 61 years old, suddenly having to look for work again just to make rent on time.
Finally we insisted he see a doctor when my mother realized his torso that was leaking blood. He was obviously prolonging his visit to a doctor because he was afraid of the cost. When he checked into the ER he had nothing but the hope of being accepted into a charity program at Providence St. John’s.
He was suffering from a severe infection that had him running a fever for at least a month, anemia from constant blood loss, all due to an advanced case of skin cancer.
My entire life my father has never had to visit the doctor. This serious diagnosis came as a major shock, and something that my family was not financially set up for.
My dad first noticed a suspicious bump on his shoulder two years ago. His employer did not provide health insurance and he was not financially able to pay for it on his own. My mother is disabled and my dad has worked 5-6 days a week for 8 years, often working 12 hour days on his feet in a restaurant.
He didn’t see medical care as a possibility for him until he absolutely had to seek treatment. Had my father had access to healthcare two years ago, his cancer would have been addressed before it became such a complex case.
While in the hospital, a social worker set him up on emergency Medi-cal and got him into the hospital’s charity program, which would cover his hospital stay. He had surgery to remove tumors from his arm on March 23rd, which happened to be both my 24th birthday and the same day that the House was poised to vote to repeal the AHCA.
As we know now, the vote was delayed due to lack of support on both sides of the aisle. It was one of the most surreal days of my life: waiting for the surgeon in the hospital cafeteria, watching CNN on their TV, knowing it was directly speaking to me and my family’s immediate future.
My father’s surgery was not successful in removing all the cancer without compromising his arm. The surgeon informed us that he would need to move to the LA County Hospital to receive care going forward.
He said, “I take care of any patient that comes through my door, but it will be difficult to find another doctor here that will take you on Medi-Cal.”
Over the course of four months I’ve taken my dad to 4 different hospitals including driving 2 hour round trips 5 days a week for Radiation therapy. We have driven from Santa Monica to Harbor UCLA (Torrance, 24 miles) to St. Vincent’s (Koreatown, 12 miles) to City of Hope (Duarte, 39 miles) finally to be referred to UCLA (Westwood, 5 miles). All to secure him a doctor that could treat him on Medi-Cal.
Finding adequate healthcare should not be an Easter egg hunt, running to and fro searching for the place that will take you. Healthcare should not be something that is delayed based on inaccessibility or financial burden.
It is debasing being denied access to medical help just because of your financial situation. You feel less worthy of care, the stress impacts your already compromised health and families are stretched thin.
Now we are in the process of getting him into an Immunotherapy clinical trial because there is no way Medi-Cal would cover those expenses. He is back to fighting an internal infection and while we are so grateful to be under UCLA’s care, it took us so long to find a doctor who could oversee his treatment.
While thankfully cancer fighting is becoming more sophisticated with groundbreaking treatments like Immunotherapy, the costs are going up. Forbes released an article that reveals patients are detrimentally affected by the current healthcare system, asking “Is there a less expensive drug?” or “Can I come for treatment less frequently?”
The healing process cannot be stifled by the stress of cost. When you are fighting for your life that needs to be the focus.
Accessible Healthcare is the foundation of a functioning society. While the opposition to Single-Payer likes to harp on higher taxes, we have to realize if we don’t have proper Healthcare the costs will catch up to us when we are hit with medical bills, or costly prescriptions that insurance doesn’t cover.
The worst feeling is having to tell your father he has to wait another few days for his pain medication to be cleared by insurance. You will end up paying out of pocket because you can’t stand to see him in so much pain.
I quit my office job to work nights at a restaurant so that I can take him to appointments. Because he is unemployed I have began pitching in my income for my parent’s groceries and my father’s medication, which leaves my bank account dry often long before my next paycheck.
I went back to babysitting in order to make extra cash. One of my clients is a wealthy mother who lost her husband to a brain tumor 3 years ago. She was extremely supportive and sympathetic when I told her my father’s situation, but when I began explaining the details of finding a doctor she said something that struck me,
“I never really thought about it before, the whole healthcare thing.”
Until you are looking into the face of someone or hear a personal story it can be hard to understand the importance of an issue. There is an inherent shame that is born when you can’t manage your health, one that silences those who are ailing. Now I have the courage to share what has been my number one concern the last 6 months.
I hope my family’s story can shed light on a complicated situation that needs to be handled from a compassionate perspective.