Once upon a time, I was young and had no pre-existing conditions. That was a glorious time to be alive. I ran road races and mountain climbs, played basketball and ultimate Frisbee, and paid very little for my healthcare.
But that was then and this is now, a point in time when the shadow of Obamacare repeal hangs over the country.
Three and a half years ago, I saw that I had a lump in my groin, where I thought my lymph nodes should be. I went to my doctor and said, “This doesn’t look good,” and she said, “You’re right, this doesn’t look good.” She sent me to get a biopsy and the doctor who did the procedure said, “This doesn’t look good.” I got CT and PET CT scans, and then visited with an oncologist who said, “This doesn’t look good, but it’s treatable. You’ll be ok.” I got a second opinion from another oncologist who agreed that I would be ok.
After four months of chemotherapy, for diffuse large B-cell lymphoma, I am indeed ok. And my employer-provided healthcare covered almost all of the expenses — despite all the scans and specialists and opinions, what I paid out of pocket did not qualify as a deduction on my taxes.
Fast forward a bit, towards the end of last year, when I started getting tired halfway through the work day. Most days, I’d have stretches where I was in desperate need of a nap. I chalked it up to my efforts to get back in shape — I had started running regularly and had lost the few pounds I had gained since graduating college in the late 1980s.
I forgot to bring it up when I had my physical in January. I had been forgetting quite a few things, actually — and chalked it up to permanent after-effects of the chemotherapy, I assumed. But my doctor, who orders a thorough screening of my blood for every physical, called me and told me that my thyroid function had decreased — which explained the fatigue, the forgetfulness, and a few other symptoms I didn’t piece together on my own. The diagnosis and treatment of the problem was almost completely covered.
So here I am, in great physical shape — who else has maintained their weight for almost 30 years —yet with two pre-existing medical conditions. The life insurance industry, which is not as well-regulated as the health insurance industry, won’t touch me. And yet, after Congress finishes “reforming” healthcare, everyone in my shoes without a job that comes with benefits will be completely untouchable — 22 million people would lose health insurance over the next ten years, according to the latest analysis.
While I count myself fortunate for surviving my experiences, they pale in comparison to others I’ve come across. At one of the rallies against the AHCA, the bill under consideration by the US Senate, one speaker was a woman in her mid-twenties who survived cancer with more than $40,000 in debt. And she considered herself fortunate that her cancer — and her medical bills — weren’t worse.
I wrote this piece from my parents’ apartment. I drove up to see them and take my dad to see a Mets game and spend time with him. My dad has a slow-developing prostate cancer that has reached the point where the doctors told him it’s time to get treatment. And so he’s now on the path, talking to doctors and getting scans and opinions.
My dad, because he is self-employed, does not have employer-provided health insurance. He’s over 65, so he’s covered by Medicare. And while I’m fairly confident that he could survive the cancer and its treatment, I am increasingly on edge that his journey needs to move on a faster pace, before the Senate can finish the job that the House of Representatives began two months ago and gut his health coverage.
The best case scenario I can see for all of us is that the medical system in the US will ping-pong between a compromised version of a single-payer system that ensures health coverage for just about everybody, and a more draconian system that reserves most forms of treatment only for the wealthiest in our society. Every four to eight years, the balance of power will shift and we’ll go through the same grand debate. The only people who will benefit are those whose tax cuts get snuck into each bill.
The worst case scenario is that the Senate finishes the job that the House started, and then healthcare reform becomes too politically toxic for any party to touch.
Many conservatives like to refer to themselves as “pro-life,” a sentiment that does not seem to include universal access to affordable healthcare. At some point, though, I would like to see both sides of the aisle — liberals and conservatives — unite in a pro-life embrace of universal coverage. Because, when you get right down to it, life itself is a pre-existing condition that needs to be covered.