Guest editorial: Health Care Act debate is personal
What the American Health Care Act debate means to me
May 9, 2017
This past week has been medically dramatic. My 67 year-old mother's mobility has been steadily worsening recently. She has been managing her diabetes for over a decade now, but this is new. After my parents picked me up from O'Hare for a long-planned trip, we made our way to her neurologist appointment at the University of Chicago. She told the doctor about the episode of congestive heart failure last May while she was being hospitalized for pneumonia. This combination resulted in liquid pumped from her lungs and a persistent cough. That was backstory to the weakness in her legs, leaving her unable to stand up on her own. After a painful electromyogram, the neurologist gave his analysis — early stage ALS.
After spending the next day working on wedding arrangements, my fiancee, my parents and I went to Wisconsin to see my 95-year-old grandmother. Grandma is a fantastic, stubborn old lady. She hasn't driven in over a decade, but otherwise is more independent and healthier than one might expect of a 95 year-old.
After a few days, it was time to start getting back home, but Grandma wanted to treat us to breakfast. Grandma mentioned she hadn't gotten a good night's sleep, so nobody was alarmed when she quietly nodded off. We woke her when the food arrived, and she groggily sat there for a few minutes, her food untouched. She still seemed only vaguely aware of her surroundings. The café owner noticed this and called 911.
An ambulance took her to the local hospital, where a CT scan revealed she had had a stroke. Another ambulance transferred her to the better-equipped regional hospital. She is resting now, weakened but not paralyzed, and her speech seems not to have been effected. She may well make a full recovery.
Between these two events, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the AHCA. They cheered the proposed cuts to Medicare. My parents do have supplemental insurance, but my grandmother does not. We do not even yet know what the total bill for these two events will be, but already, without Medicare, my parents would simply not be able to afford the care that my mother needs, so the excess would be left to me. If the supplemental insurance was denied to her due to her list of pre-existing conditions, then my burden in this would be even greater.
This is one real world example of the cross-generational financial devastation that chronic or even episodic medical issues can create. While I firmly believe in personal responsibility, I also believe in societal responsibility. For 17 years, my mother was a women's advocate at a domestic violence shelter. She cared for thousands of the most vulnerable among us: abused women and children with no other place to turn. The great good that she provided the community was offset by meager pay and demonstrable negative effect on her mental and physical wellbeing.
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In providing security for Americans, I see little distinction between national defense, education or personal health care. We must find better solutions to the problems facing health care in America. We should do our utmost to assure that medical care doesn't routinely turn into decades-long financial burdens. The AHCA as was passed by the House addresses concerns pertaining to insurance company profits and taxes on the wealthy, and does nothing to improve the situation for the rest of America. We must call on our Senators so this myopic bill does not pass the upper house. We must also hold our Representatives accountable for this. I understand that the ACA is not a perfect law, but if the AHCA is truly the best idea our elected representatives have to fix it, they must be replaced for the good of our society.