(Promoted by Colorado Pols)
Deena* did everything wrong for most of her life, and then she tried to do everything right. She had three kids by three different fathers. She abused drugs and alcohol. She had times of being homeless. But what killed her in the end wasn't her years of wild living, nor was it the years of scraping by, putting herself through school, living clean and sober, going to church, making amends, trying to be a good citizen, mother, and grandmother.
In the last decade before she died, Deena worked as a registered nurse through a temporary agency. While the money was good, there were no health benefits offered unless the assignment lasted more than six months. So she took good care of her patients, but was unable to be taken care of herself, when she developed strange symptoms of swollen joints and incapacitating, intense pain. Her family and I thought that she may have developed lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. A late night visit to an emergency room resulted in a condescending doctor telling her to stop complaining, prescribing a pain-killer, and sending her home.
She was prescribed a codeine-based pain killer. Because she was a petite woman, the dosage may have been too much for her, and she stopped breathing early in the morning on New Year's Day, about 15 years ago. If she had been able to have a regular doctor who tracked her health history, or access to regular care to manage her symptoms, we thought that the outcome would have been different.
What killed my best friend Deena in the end was lack of access to consistent, reliable health care. Like 45,000 other individuals in this country, she died because she had no health insurance. Since the Affordable Care Act was signed into law and implemented, 8-9 million fewer Americans have been uninsured. They have not had to make those life-and death choices – the "Freedom to choose between death and financial ruin," as blogger Adam Dawson put it.
"The United States is not the greatest country in the world". South Korea, along with most of Europe and Asian countries that have single-payer or public health systems, have less infant mortality per 1,000 live births than the USA. We have a high maternal death rate, particularly in regions of the South and some cities. Our kids are increasingly not vaccinated. The health of young Americans is slowly improving. Thousands of real stories by real Americans testify to the benefits of finally being "covered". I am one of these stories. I can now access my blood pressure medicine without waiting two months for an appointment in a charity clinic or giving up a month's pay.
Obamacare is not perfect. Emergency room admissions are up, because there is still a shortage of primary care doctors in many communities. But most Americans want to fix it, not repeal it. In states which voted not to expand Medicaid under the ACA, many working poor people are still left uninsured, and are sick or dying without help. From the Kaiser Foundation:
When Mike Coffman says that he wants to cover pre-existing conditions, "in case the Affordable Care Act is repealed", when Cory Gardner keeps spreading lies in order to repeal Obamacare, when Ken Buck proclaims "I will vote to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a free-market, patient-centered health care system," I hear that they are fine with 9 million Americans dying while uninsured. They are fine with me, and people like me, not being able to pay to see a doctor. Their donations from the insurance industry will keep on coming, so why should they care about their struggling constituents?
"Deena" would be okay with me telling her story.** She did not want to die in her fifties. She wanted to see her grandkids and kids grow up. She was an adventurer, a risk taker, an outspoken advocate for the underdog, who danced and sang to reggae tunes, (Jimmy Cliff's "Many Rivers" was her favorite), and marched for social justice. If anyone wants to know the "real facts" of Deena's name, illness, and death, they may write to me at an anonymous email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I invite readers of this forum to add your own real-life stories about your friends, family, or yourselves lacking health care prior to the ACA. Because I'm tired of the smug politicians and the constant, well-funded lies. Let's get some truth on here.
*Not her real name
** I've preserved her anonymity for her surviving family's sake.