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by Christina Lay

Recently, while reading an opinion piece analyzing why the democrats won back the House of Reps, I was struck by how the political strategist being interviewed spoke of Health Care as a “pocketbook issue”.  I was taken aback by the realization that even the lawmakers who support it consider health care a matter of dollars and cents, not basic survival.

I suppose it’s natural for people who’ve never had to go without insurance, or who’ve never had a life-threatening illness, to look at universal health care as a benefit that might raise taxes rather than as a human right that will save lives. I don’t have that luxury. Although the Affordable Care Act is an imperfect, unlovely and misshapen thing, I know that it is better than nothing. Far, far better than nothing. I’m saying this as someone who would surely be dead or dying if not for the fact that President Obama’s socialist scheme “forced” me to buy health insurance three years ago.

Although I’ve always supported the idea of universal health care, I balked at being forced to pay for crappy insurance. Let’s be honest: the ACA is not affordable. Cancer is even less so, but until you get the diagnosis, it’s not something you work into your life plan or budget.

Here’s my story in a nutshell: I work full time, but at three different jobs, so I had no health insurance. When the ACA passed, I grumpily signed up for the cheapest insurance available on the marketplace. Because the deductible is so high ($6,500) I assumed the insurance would do me no good unless I happened to get hit by a truck. About a year in, I got hit by the proverbial truck. I started to have symptoms. The doctor I saw gave me a long list of possible causes, the very last being colon cancer. He concluded by saying I probably had an ulcer, to stop taking Ibuprofen, and to get a colonoscopy.

I can say unequivocally that if I hadn’t had insurance, I never would have gotten that colonoscopy. I had a scare during the process in which the insurance company at first said they wouldn’t pay for it (that’s a subject for another post, let me tell you). During this time when I thought I’d have to pay for the test myself, I came very close to cancelling it. I did some research and found that a colonoscopy costs somewhere in the range of $3,000-$5,000. This was just not possible for me, especially since I knew deep down that they wouldn’t find anything.  However, in a moment of clarity, an old refrain played in my head: what’s more important than your health?  This is when the “pocketbook” suddenly becomes much less important as you realize that being alive is pretty much a prerequisite for everything else.

A helpful and forthright nurse finally assured me that the insurance company would pay for the colonoscopy: I was over fifty and I’d never had one. It was all a matter of checking the right box. The fact that checking the wrong or right box on an insurance form might be a matter of life and death still makes my heart freeze.

I went. I had the test. I discovered I had a large cancerous tumor growing in my lower colon.

A battery of tests, a surgery, and a $70,000 dollar hospital bill paid for by my crappy insurance later, I am a cancer survivor. But cancer isn’t that tidy. I still have to see the oncologist every three months, have blood drawn, get hideously expensive CT scans and so forth. So you see, I don’t have the luxury of sitting back and hoping that after hamstringing, gutting and undermining the ACA, the party in power might eventually someday come up with something better. Already, because of their actions, my monthly premium is going to double next year.

But I can’t go back to being without insurance. I absolutely can’t, and neither can I afford insurance without the subsidy the ACA provides.

Maybe the cancer won’t come back. Maybe I can hobble along into my sixties without another major health crisis. I don’t like the odds. I will continue to pay for the Unaffordable Care that I get, knowing that Life and Health far outweigh any concerns of my poor abused pocketbook.

How do we get politicians to understand that? How do we get them to care? I’m not sure it’s possible. Personally, I feel like an expendable foot soldier in the war for political power, with the ultimate goal being….what? Lower taxes? I know that I am one of millions depending on the ACA. I shudder to think how many people will be forced to forgo the simple test that could save their lives, or all the people who will go bankrupt fighting to survive, while their representatives in congress (all with great health insurance that we pay for) play Russian roulette with their lives. All for politics, power and pocketbooks.

Today is Thanksgiving. Today I am thankful to be alive. I am thankful for the lumpy, ugly, shambling mess that is the ACA. I am thankful to President Obama for having the guts to make this crucial Human Right a priority of his administration. And I am grateful that the party who seems to give at least half a fig about my life has regained some power.  They didn’t win because people are worried about their pocketbooks. They won because people are afraid for their lives.

Now let’s give the ACA some love. Let’s strengthen it, not undermine it. The life saved could be yours.