Two weeks ago, President Obama sent me an e-mail asking me to tell my personal story about the importance of health care reform in my life. He reminded me of his own personal story, about his mother dying from ovarian cancer 10 years ago and how she spent her last weeks worrying about medical bills. So I thought, why not? Here's my story:
I co-own a small weekly newspaper published in Humboldt County, California. We have 17 employees. That's a lot of paychecks to sign twice a month.
Last year, at age 61, I did something a little crazy that even shocked my husband of 43 years: I took a leave of absence and drove to Colorado to volunteer for you. For five weeks I knocked on hundreds and hundreds of doors and talked about gun ownership, the economy and the war in Iraq, in roughly that order of importance. I don't know if you are familiar the town of Craig, but it's a pocket of poverty in the Wild West, and it's pretty conservative. You didn't win Craig. It wasn't even close. But you improved over Democratic nominee John Kerry's performance four years earlier -- in Craig and elsewhere -- enough to carry the state.
Back home, I got a bill for my employees' medical insurance that was 25 percent higher than the previous year's. We couldn't absorb that much of a hike, so my employees agreed to accept an insurance policy with even fewer benefits. We now officially have the crummiest major medical policy offered by our local insurance company. We pay thousands of dollars a month for almost no coverage. It did not cover a colonoscopy that was absolutely necessary for one of our employees. Right now, I am fighting with the company because they refuse to cover mammograms. Since when is a mammogram not part of an older woman's yearly checkup?
While I'm ready for universal health care, apparently you're not. But please do something. Create a policy that will allow us to buy inexpensive insurance for our employees and their families. We don't mind high co-pays for office visits and medicine because my employees pay for their own right now. What we really want is this:
Catastrophic coverage. We need peace of mind that a family will not be wiped out financially if someone gets cancer or has a stroke. We want a cap on out-of-pocket expenditures per year if something really bad happens.
Wellness coverage. We need yearly checkups that are complete and help with tests and further treatment ordered by our physicians.
Affordable office visits and medicine. Again, we'll pay our share.
Please do not come up with a government policy that just covers those now uninsured. We all need help. Do not exclude employers who have been trying to provide health insurance all along and their employees who have been willing to put up with such poor coverage.
Oh, by the way ... my own kids could use some better options, too. We have a granddaughter born with a large hole in her heart. Her parents are responsible, hard-working young adults who have always paid for their own health insurance because they are self-employed. Yes, they were covered when our granddaughter had to have surgery at just 9 months old and again just before her fifth birthday. They are all doing OK, but it costs this young family more than $1,200 per month on average to cover their insurance premium and other ongoing medical costs. That's in their family budget before groceries and before house payments every month.
And one more story, since you brought up the subject of moms: With the help of Hospice, I was my mother's caregiver when she died. She, too, was overly worried about how much her own care cost. She told me many, many times that this country has its priorities mixed up. To spend that much money for one more try at chemo at the end of long life instead of funding basic care for young people and families is just plain wrong. We should be ashamed.