When all those town hall meetings were held for healthcare reform, I was not only lobbying for reform as a home healthcare provider, but I didn’t even have health insurance. And I knew countless other home healthcare workers who also didn’t have health insurance.
It was strange working in the industry and not being insured, especially since the people I was helping received health insurance through the government. In Virginia, my clients received coverage through Medicare and Medicaid. Sometimes I wondered how I could continue to lobby on the Hill for healthcare reform and demand that legislators advance the agenda, yet home healthcare workers in Virginia could continue to go without health insurance? How was this possible? In order for home healthcare workers to receive health insurance, we had to lobby the state legislature and the governor. So I was lobbying on the national level for the Affordable Care Act, and when I would get home, I would lobby state legislators for health insurance for me.
It’s unfortunate, but it’s true. The last speech on healthcare reform that I did was on Capitol Hill behind the Longworth House Office Building. There were dignitaries like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying how great it was that healthcare reform passed. The interesting part was I had bronchitis, literally, the day before the speech. I had gone to urgent care without health insurance. When I signed into urgent care, I told the receptionist that all I wanted was to see a doctor because I didn’t feel well. She told me I had to pay $250 just to sign in. If they had ordered any blood or lab work, I would have had to pay for it on the spot – separately from the $250. This is in Arlington, Virginia.
At that point I was sick. I went outside the building just outside the sliding doors. I was thinking, “What is going on here? Tomorrow I am going to give a speech on how great healthcare reform is, yet the people lobbying for the bill aren’t even covered!” I felt like a hypocrite. I felt like I was being used. But it was also one of the best speeches of my life.
I still support healthcare reform. There is no reason why the United States in 2010 should have people suffer because of a physical or mental illness, and because they can’t afford care. Also, healthcare reform is good for the economy. We are talking about people having more money to be able to purchase a house, or a car, because they won’t have to grapple with the rising costs of healthcare. The cost in the short term actually benefits us in the long term.
And there are many gracious people fighting for healthcare reform, people like Wendell Potter. I saw him at a town hall meeting where he was talking about being in the boardroom of a health insurance company. He said, “enough is enough” and toured town hall meetings to let people know about the lies being purported in these insurance boardrooms. “You know why I know?” he told the audience. “Because I was there.” I was like okay.
We are talking about a system that benefits a few people with money and power at the cost of so many people who don’t have money or power because of where they were born or who their parents are. This is unfortunate.
I think in order to insure more people, America is going to have to wake up, know that the things being told to us are not 100 percent true, and seek out the truth for themselves. We will have comprehensive healthcare reform when we learn what patients standing before the boards of private health insurance companies are being told, how they are being denied care, and how, behind closed doors, the insurance companies think they can get away with it by making sure there is no bill in 2014.
The cost to us is too high. We have an incredible healthcare system, but it’s giving people access to that healthcare system that is the challenge. Who is going to stand up for us and be the next Sen. Ted Kennedy, or President Barack Obama, or Sen. Chris Dodd or Sen. Tom Harkin, who all demanded healthcare for us the first 100 days of President Obama's presidency? Or, the next Hillary Clinton who spearheaded a similar effort when President Clinton was in office? I see what happens when people are sick or have mental challenges and are disenfranchised. What happens to them?
If we don’t get healthcare costs under control, in 2010 or beyond, more than 50 percent of people’s paychecks will go to health insurance, or even 60 percent of people’s paychecks. Is that what we want to spend all our money on? Then the housing market will tank, the auto market and other industries will cause us to plunge into another recession, as people can afford little else than to pay for their medical bills. Is this where we want to be as a country?
Athena Jones is the office manager at the non-profit organization, Konbit for Haiti. She lives in Miami, Florida.