Since the unlikely election of Scott Brown in Massachusetts, hardly a day goes by in Washington without a torrent of speculation on what loss of a filibuster-proof majority will mean for the healthcare reform legislation that both houses have already passed. But as the president recently noted, the intense focus on the process of moving the bill over the finish line has done much to obscure the actual human stakes of the policy being debated.
Particularly striking is the near-total absence of the voices of those most acutely affected by the capriciousness of our current healthcare system, the millions who have no insurance. Despite the fact that 30 million of these folks have arguably the largest stake in the legislative outcome, they’re almost totally absent from the national conversation over its fate.
Here at The Nation, we have been working to right this in our own small way. We’ve spent the last two weeks searching for stories from the uninsured. Despite our chosen tools (Twitter and e-mail), or perhaps because of them, we received 185 responses from a diverse group of people. From recent college graduates, to struggling single parents, to recent retirees, the storytellers ranged vastly in age, background and occupation. However, a common thread held them all together: the anxiety and uncertainty that comes with being uninsured.
Many stories expressed great, unshakeable fear that one medical emergency would ruin them. “I would say my wife and I are one medical emergency away from losing everything, but actually I’ve pretty much resigned myself in my head to the reality that if I have a medical emergency I am going to die,” says a used-book seller in California.
The responses included wide array of opinions and varied hopes for the future of healthcare reform, but what an overwhelming majority agreed upon was that the United States government, particularly Congress, had failed to represent them within the debate. “Why can’t the general health and well-being of the American population be too big to fail? ” asks one Massachusetts woman. Distraught and disappointed, many have given up on the possibility of change. “They are all out-of-touch, rich career politicians who care more about getting elected than if we die,” says a woman from Ohio.
Ultimately, the full stories you’ll find attached hope to bring this discussion back to where it belongs. We hope to ground the debate in the painful realities that people face every day: pre-existing conditions, inconceivably high premiums, medical bankruptcy and considerable pain. To root the conversation back in compassion and consideration for those most in need.
Perhaps by allowing these voices to be heard, they will become impossible to ignore.
In College and Out of Insurance
I haven’t had health insurance since I was 18. I’m 23 now. My health started to take a turn for the worse around two to three years ago. I currently have many conditions–TMJ, tendonitis, spinal problems, poor eyesight, poor dental health, etc., and I almost never see doctors or dentists because they’re so hard to afford on a student budget.
I once had insurance for three months but it was cancelled after I had trouble paying the premiums on time. Now I can’t get insurance from anyone due to pre-existing conditions, and I’ve applied multiple times to every carrier on eHealthInsurance. There are no options for me in the US, except to pay out-of-pocket, which is wildly expensive. I can’t even move to another country because I’m still in college.