Some of you know the following story, others may not. Regardless, I share it now because of the continuing saga of healthcare debate in this country. It is an issue near and dear not only to my heart, but also my pocketbook. This is the case with countless others. How many people have had their lives wrecked by the costs of healthcare?
Roughly fourteen years ago, I was visiting in-laws for the holidays. They smoked, and I've always had a particular sensitivity to cigarette smoke. It's one of the reasons dad and I weren't close. He smoked like a chimney, and being around it for too long gave me headaches. At any rate, the multi-day visit with the in-laws caused me to have several coughing fits. By the time Ashley & I were home, I'd developed a baseball-size lump at the base of my neck.
A visit to the doctor and a CT scan revealed that I'd ruptured something while coughing, and had bled into it, forming a cyst that was filled with blood. Some treatment was prescribed, and that was that. For the cyst. Unfortunately, the scan had also revealed some nodules growing on my thyroid. Further tests were conducted, including some rather uncomfortable needle biopsies through the neck, and while there was no cancer detected, the specialist I saw wanted to see me routinely, to keep an eye on things.
It would be good to stop and note that, at this time, I was working full-time for a temp agency, placed at a Fortune 500 company, but without benefits. The benefits that were offered came with extremely pricey premiums, and no providers in the actual city I lived in. Rather, I would have had to travel 45 minutes to the next town to see medical professionals covered under the offered plan, so I declined. This was also during the time before legalized same-sex marriage, so Ashley couldn't add me to his (much better) health plan.
Given the aforementioned situation, I incurred a few thousand dollars of debt, due to the medical expenses of the lump on the neck and the thyroid nodules. When the specialist doctor advised that I continue to see him for monitoring purposes, I politely declined. The look on his face as I exited his office was that of concern. Oddly, the choice was an easy one for me, at the time. When it came down to possibly developing cancer down the road, or continuing to incur more medical expenses, I chose the cheaper option.
Now, it is worth noting again that I was not some sort of leech on society. I was working full-time hours, though at a job that paid barely above the minimum wage, and that offered such expensive and inconvenient health insurance that I'd chosen not to have it. I was in my twenties, wasn't expecting to get sick (does anyone, really?), and had other bills to pay. In the hierarchy of things to afford, healthcare took a back seat.
Fast forward to late 2009. I was at a much better job, with fantastic benefits. Suddenly, one day out of the blue, my neck began to feel funny. And the sensation didn't stop. After a week I went to the doctor. She ordered an ultrasound which showed the thyroid nodules, and that they were getting big. On to a specialist, who conducted more tests (including the dreaded needle biopsy). Things looked suspicious, so, in April 2010, I had surgery to completely remove the thyroid gland. A post-surgical pathology revealed the presence of cancer. Radiation treatment followed.
In all, with good, solid health insurance in place, I paid a few hundred dollars out of what amounted to thousands in medical expenses. Without insurance in-place, what would I have done with those costs? The choices really are pretty clear: I would have eventually dies from the cancer, or gone into tremendous debt for the rest of my life. And I've had medical professionals hound me about paying for their services -- remember the expenses incurred from the initial tests fourteen years ago? Such calls aren't exactly pleasant.
So you see, the debate over affordable healthcare is a personal one for me. Yes, I'm all-good now (knock on wood), but that doesn't mean I don't care about those who aren't so well-off. And, even if I hadn't had the aforementioned experiences, I'm still part of the human continuum, and therefore care about what happens to others. Hopefully, you do to, too. And, to be clear, I don't know what the answer is to all this. All I know is, there needs to be work done. You agree, don't you? I really hope you do.