Journal Entry #5: Health Care is Personal To Me

September 8, 2019

Health care is one of the most talked about policy areas when it comes to federal and state government. However, it’s more than just an issue to me, and tens of millions of other Americans. It’s personal.

Last week I shared the story with you of how I got interested and involved in politics. This week, I’d like to discuss one of the early policy battles of the Obama Administration that touched close to home for me, and is still painfully relevant today as Trump and the Republicans seek to destroy the ACA in federal court: health care reform.

Health care reform is something that’s deeply personal to me and my family. Our lives have been impacted by the failures of the American health care system.

My mom has been on the wrong end of our health care system more than most. Before she had my brother and I, my mom tried to have kids. She had a miscarriage because of the inadequacies of our health care system.

A few months into her pregnancy, she had fallen ill. She went to a doctor to see what was wrong. Because her employer-based health insurance did not cover maternity care, and she could not afford to pay the cost of going to an expensive clinic or an emergency room on her own, she went to a neighborhood family care clinic to receive attention.

Her doctor was a student in training. He figured out that her placenta had ruptured, but didn’t know why. He missed that she had a simple infection. She lost her child because of that misdiagnosis, and she was left at risk of contracting a serious infection that could have threatened her own life too. Had she had access to affordable maternity care and better doctors, the outcome would have likely been very different.

Nearly two decades later, my mom would once again come up against the the barriers of our health care system.

In 2004, she had a red spot develop on her nose that wouldn’t go away. She went to a doctor and found out that she had basal cell skin cancer, the most common form of skin cancer. She received immediate treatment for it by getting the cancerous cells removed. She’s been fine ever since.

Despite the fact that basal cell skin cancer is entirely treatable in the vast majority of cases, health insurances companies didn’t want to cover us. Either they refused to offer our family an insurance plan, or they offered us insurance that was extremely expensive and did not adequately cover us. My mom was now considered a risk because of a “pre-existing condition.”

We were now one of tens of millions of Americans who couldn’t find comprehensive and affordable health care coverage. My dad worked for his family landscaping company, but they couldn’t afford to provide high quality health insurance to their employees (we were covered by a bare bones plan that didn’t cover much). When they folded, he started his own landscaping company with my mom. We couldn’t afford to get health insurance through the business in those early years with money being tight.

A few years later, in 2009, I would find out that I too had a pre-existing condition.

It was early 2009. I was in gym class where we were doing our national fitness tests. On this particular day, we were running the pacer, a timed activity where you from one line to another within a certain period of time as many times as you could. Even though I didn’t particularly enjoy these activities, I was excited to test my endurance.

I had just spent the past several months dieting and using an exercise bike religiously to try and lose weight. I managed to get my weight down from a height of 260-265 to 220 in just a couple of months by doing this. I was expecting with the work I had put in that I could do pretty well on these tests.

We were only a few laps into the test, but I felt my heart racing in an abnormal way. I was the first person to stop during the test.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened to me. Something similar to this happened to me before my freshman year of high school on the first day of football practice.

That time, we were doing basic drills on a hot 90 degree day. The activities weren’t that strenuous, but I struggled. My heart rate stayed well over 130 over two hours after the practice was over, despite the fact that we hadn’t even been running.

We never went to a clinic to see what was wrong. I had just had a physical a few days earlier where my mom had voiced concerns about my fluctuating weight. I had recently grown several inches, but became very skinny and had lost weight despite making no change in exercise or diet. Despite her concerns, my doctor never ran blood work. He only did a urine test to see if I was diabetic. I wasn’t.

I assumed I must have been dehydrated or was just really out of shape (this I certainly was, but it wasn’t why I had the heart rate issue that day). I decided to drop out of football right away, and for the next two years went undiagnosed.

Now that I was experiencing the same event again, my mom and I made sure to go to a doctor while my heart was still racing. They ran blood work. They discovered that I had an autoimmune disease that had been causing my thyroid levels to fluctuate wildly, and, in turn, was helping to contribute to a rash of symptoms I had been experiencing for years like rapid weight gain and weight loss, trouble focusing (I had gone from an A student in elementary school to struggling in class because I had trouble paying attention), anxiety, fatigue, and rapid heart beat.

With this diagnosis, I would require being on thyroid medication to the rest of my life. However, that’s all I needed to keep my thyroid under control. Despite it being easily treatable, I now joined my mom was someone who was considered a “high-risk” to insure because the condition I had was now seen as a “pre-existing condition.” I would be facing the same struggle that my family had just endured for the rest of my life.

Fortunately for me, my mom, and millions of other Americans, President Obama and the Democratic Congress we had at that time was pushing for comprehensive health care reform. If those efforts were successful, we would no longer be denied insurance because of a pre-existing condition, and we’d have a much better shot at being able to afford health insurance on the individual market.

I’m thankful every day that we got the ACA passed. Had it not become law when it did, I know that my family and I wouldn’t have health insurance right now.

Our story is not unique. Millions of Americans, including countless people I’ve worked with and met over the past ten years, have gone through similar experiences. In fact, it was only a couple of weeks ago that one of the colleagues I worked with on the 2016 Democratic Coordinated Campaign in Madison in 2016, Brianna, just went through her own experience like this when she was hospitalized and diagnosed with Chrohn’s disease.

There’s no doubt that there’s a ton of work that remains to be done to improve our health care system moving forward. The cost of care remains way too expensive, and the quality of outcomes in our health care system still remain far behind most other industrialized countries. However, the thing we can least afford is to go back to the way things were before 2010. That’s what would happen if Trump and the Republicans are successful in getting the ACA overturned in federal court. It’s also a certainty if they win next fall.

This is just one of the many reasons why I got in this fight. I’m fighting for people like my mom and Brianna to make sure that they have access to the affordable, quality care they deserve.

Call your lawmakers today and urge them to take action. We can’t go back!

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