Whatever is decided in Congress will affect not only millions of Americans -- it will impact my sister.
Elizabeth Lindell: My mom calls my sister and me seven-year twins -- born almost a decade apart but connected as though we lived side-by-side in the womb. When her joints swell and feel as though they have been fractured in a fall on the ice-skating rink, I don't sense it the way they say twins do, but I deeply empathize. My sister and I both suffer from Systemic
Lupus Erythematosus (lupus). The one vast difference in our lives, among our many similarities, is that I have medical insurance and she does not. I have access to doctors, surgeries, holistic treatments, hospitals, and prescriptions. She does not.
During my worst lupus flare, my sister was there as always, mothering my daughter in a way no one else could, and that allowed me peace during a 10-day hospital stay. She brought my child to see me, along with magazines and skin cream, but I could see in her eyes it was difficult to be there. Lupus had gone to my brain that time and had caused swelling and lesions. Although I would be okay, it was serious, and she knew lupus could be life-threatening. As I lay there, I looked at my beautiful, vibrant soul sister and wondered how she was feeling. Appearance can be deceiving with this illness. If she had been the one slurring her words two days before, her mouth going numb, followed by her legs, would she even be in this bed? Would she be receiving intravenous Solu-Medrol around the clock and treated to CAT scans and MRIs? I wasn't so sure. Would she have simply been sent home from the emergency room the first night with a prescription for steroids she couldn't afford to fill because she didn't have insurance?
When we're standing in line at the emergency room, waiting to sign in, in a line full of people without insurance and with a cold, because they can't afford to go to the doctor, and a woman rushes in holding a T-shirt dripping with blood to her head, what do we do? If a nurse isn't around, we triage ourselves, and move her to the front. I've seen this happen. When we're driving down the street and hear a siren, what do we do? We pull over. Yes, it's the law. But, I like to think it's humanity that first draws us to the side. This is the immediate, gut-reaction compassion we need in regards to President Obama's Health Care Reform proposal, which includes a public option plan. The head wound in all of us is bleeding profusely -- and we all need to be first in line.
Obama's plan makes it illegal for insurance companies to drop or deny you for a pre-existing condition, adds nothing to our deficit, and gives security to seniors and a public option to give everyone this very basic need we are all entitled to. The public option is for only those without insurance, and its presence is also intended to keep insurance companies honest and rates affordable. Under this plan, you are free to use whatever insurance you like, and companies will have stricter guidelines in place to protect you, such as by putting a cap on out-of-pocket expenses, and they will be required to cover preventative care such as mammograms and colonoscopies at no further expense to you.
The problem is that we've become a nation that believes it's every man for himself. We've been taught our government doesn't care, society doesn't care, and sometimes, our peers don't care. In reality, there are so many of us who do care. About the health of ourselves, others, and the health of who we choose to be as people.
When I was first diagnosed, I chose the most respected rheumatologist in the field. Being able to choose your doctor is ideal, but having one at all is a basic need and should be a right. A public education is the right of every child in this country, and many of us have trouble covering the book fees or even school supplies. Imagine if public school was no more because people were upset that they couldn't choose their district or were frustrated with the taxes? One year of writing a check for $12,000, the average cost for a fifth grade private education, would have us all united.
My initial visit with the rheumatologist was $10 with insurance. My sister's, with the same doctor, was $600 without it. We wrote a check that day, crossing our fingers it would clear the next. We share everything from thoughts, dreams, and cosmetics to Prednisone. The same prescriptions I can buy with insurance to ease my suffering and lead a normal life, she must buy from non-professionals, at three times the expense, because she can't afford the upkeep of doctor visits. Many doctors won't continue to prescribe medication to patients, even if it's one they need to take long-term, if they haven't been seen within six months -- and regular checkups for a chronic illness at $150 to $600 a visit is difficult to manage on any budget.
Some have said the responsibility lies in the hands of each individual to provide health care for oneself. Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani made a comment about how everyone owns a cell phone, implying that if everyone can afford that, then everyone can afford a health care plan. Not everyone does own a cell phone. Even if health care were made much more affordable, I doubt it would be at the price of a prepaid at 7-11. People in my sister's position -- who have a chronic illness, and are a mother -- aren't always able to walk to the bathroom or brush their hair, let alone find a job that offers insurance. But maybe, with Obama's plan that includes the public option, they could finally get the treatment and medication they need, and have the strength to pursue jobs, careers, and passions and raise the children that are destined to impact the world and turn it into a place where decisions like these are obvious.
|Elizabeth Lindell is a journalist, fiction writer, wife of 11 years and stay-at-home mom to a blossoming tween daughter. She happens to have lupus and bipolar disorder, and has blossomed herself, since moving to Los Angeles in 1996, from a small town in Indiana.|