I am a poster child for public health. Why do I say this? Because I live in a state where there is a low-income, public healthcare option. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was able to utilize this option for my treatment. It worked, and it worked extremely well.
Uninsured and unemployed after job-hunting for over a year in late 2006, I discovered a lump in my breast. The lump turned out to be benign, but the mammogram of that lump showed early breast cancer. The nurse-practitioner who ordered the mammogram knew about a federal program for treatment of breast and cervical cancers in low-income women. I applied for the program and was accepted for my mammogram and subsequent biopsy. Once the biopsy showed that I indeed had cancer, the Oregon Health Plan kicked in, along with the federal program, to treat my cancer.
The care I received was phenomenal. I was able to choose my doctors. My surgeon and oncologists were all brilliant, amazing physicians. All of the staff in every facility treated me with kindness and respect. Throughout the process I was a partner in my care, everyone explaining procedures at a level commensurate with my education and understanding. Never once was I made to feel like a second-class citizen because of my public health status. I completed radiation treatments and, because I take an estrogen-blocking drug, have continued on the public-health program.
As part of my care, I was required to pay $3 for doctor visits. I had two surgeries for a biopsy and lumpectomy, a needle biopsy, radiation, multiple mammograms, and attended countless doctor appointments with various practitioners. The only bills I ever received were for the $3 fees. Not once did I suffer through multiple bills, trying to sort out which my insurance company had paid, who had been billed, who was owed what. I was spared all of this thanks to public healthcare.
Since the healthcare debate has come to the fore over the last year, I have read and heard story after story of women with cancers like mine who were "covered" by private health insurance. Over and over, I have heard of the trauma and stress these women experienced at the hands of their insurance companies at the same time they were dealing with the pain, fear, and exhaustion of their illness. Each time I heard these stories, I felt grateful that I was covered by a public health plan.
Part of the health care debate has included the old canards about the Canadian and British health systems. "You can't choose your doctor." "You have to wait for months to get treated." These claims have been widely discredited, and I saw nothing in my experience with American public healthcare that was lacking. I chose all of my doctors. I was served immediately.
I sincerely hope our legislators can get their act together and create a health plan that provides health care for every American so all of us can experience true and complete care, as I did. It can work. It does work. We all deserve nothing less.
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