I’d called my mom that night, driving home from work in early December, looking to find out how her trip to Arizona with my sister had been. We’d barely made it through the basics; “See some cactus?” “Yep, we saw some cactus.” Then, she cleared her throat and told me she was putting me on speakerphone. I heard my Dad say hello in the background. “Listen, we took Dad to the doctor today and got an update on his back.” Since October, Dad had been suffering a deeply painful ache in his back, that would hurt when he stood or sat upright. They’d tried everything, massage, physical therapy, muscle relaxants, nothing helped. We’d all thought it was he’d pulled a muscle overexerting it, as he still did all of the yard-work and physical labor around my parent’s house, even at fifty-eight. He was strong, tall, ate like a horse, (maybe was a little overweight) but was otherwise healthy.
Mom spoke again. “Tell him,” she said quietly. Now in retrospect, I imagine him shaking his head. “No, you can tell him,” he said softly, but audibly enough I could hear it on the speakerphone. I heard mom steel herself, and suck in a quick breath. “Dad’s got some cancer,” Mom said.
I can’t remember how I ended the call, or how I even got to the parking space in front of the fire house on Cambridge street, where I was supposed to pick up my wife, Lisa. I can’t remember any of it, I just remember calling her immediately, my hands shaking, I suddenly felt cold, like I’d left a window open and the December air was cutting in. I do remember I saw her running down the sidewalk, her scarf flowing behind her as she ran, staggering on her work shoes, running to the car, to me.
That phone call was the beginning of a seven-month ordeal for my Dad. A period of chemotherapy treatments, of weekly trips from Connecticut up to Boston, where I live, of Stem Cell transplants, doctor’s visits at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Multiple Myeloma Center, one of the most advanced cancer centers in America, and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Connecticut for my Dad. My Dad, a director of sales at an international company, has a robust and amazing Health Insurance plan for my family. It had to be; my Mom lives daily life with Rheumatoid Arthritis, an autoimmune disease where my Mom’s disease-fighting cells attack the cartilage in her knees and hips as if it was a foreign entity, and my seventeen-year-old brother has Downs Syndrome.
Months later as Congress attempts to re-design an-already-working Healthcare system in America, thanks to the efforts of our last President, Barack Obama via the Affordable Care Act, I’d thought that because Dad, Mom and my brother had good, employer provided insurance, they’d be insulated from the changes in the legislation. I was wrong, we’re not immune.
In both pieces of legislation, from the House and the Senate, they’re discussing changing the policy to once again allow lifetime-limits on insurance payouts, meaning that after the insurance company pays out a certain amount over the course of your entire life, you hit a limit, and coverage stops. Under the Affordable Care Act, these limits were illegal for the insurance companies to have. Now, Senate Republicans are discussing (in secret) allowing them to be legal again.
My Dad’s recent hospital stay, in which he received a breakthrough Stem-Cell transplant, which very well may have saved his life, cost his insurance company well over seven figures. If this provision banning lifetime limits is removed, he has already exceeded his lifetime limit. It’s not just Dad though. When my brother was born with Downs Syndrome, an unexpected diagnosis, he immediately, at mere hours’ old was put through a myriad of tests and exams. If lifetime limits are returned, I imagine he’ll be close to or over his already, he’s seventeen. My mother has had extensive treatments and procedures for her Rheumatoid Arthritis. Her limit is likely approaching too.
This isn’t all. Rheumatoid Arthritis, Downs Syndrome and Multiple Myeloma all are considered pre-existing conditions. The Senate is currently debating (again, in secret) whether to allow states to decide if they want to continue the ban on insurance companies denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions if they lose their insurance. So, if in a few years, my Dad chooses to retire, therefore giving up his insurance through his employer, he, my Mom, and my brother won’t be able to get coverage, because they have pre-existing conditions. If my Dad’s Multiple Myeloma needs treatment again, he won’t be able to have his treatments covered by insurance.
This isn’t what any of us wanted. All three of us voted against the President, supporting Secretary Clinton who promised to keep the Affordable Care Act in place, and enhance and improve it. Yet, thanks to an electoral system that places more value in square mileage of land instead of human votes, this is the situation in which we find ourselves and our country.
I know socioeconomic privilege is what made me think we’d be okay, that my family would be unaffected by insurance policy changes at the federal level, but now, with discussions of lifetime limits and lifting the ban on denying coverage for people with pre-existing conditions, this is all too real for us. I can’t imagine the fear and worry people in much less privileged situations feel as billions of dollars in Medicaid cuts are discussed, and coverages slashed.
All it took was one phone call for me, at twenty-seven to be looking down the barrel at the prospect of losing a parent. So, if you, like me, think you or your loved ones are safe from these changes, or that your coverage will remain unchanged because of your socioeconomic status, think again.
There are thousands of lives, just like my Dad’s at stake.