Phyllis came to Capitol Hill to speak before the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging to answer a fundamental question posed in Chairman Bernie Sanders’s report, “Is Poverty a Death Sentence?” Joined by doctors who gave numerous accounts of patients who did not survive the broken health care system, Phyllis shared her own family’s story of putting off care until it was nearly too late.
Her husband Mike “felt very sick in February, 2005, but refused to take a costly trip to the emergency room due to the cost since he was no longer insured. Ten days later he had a massive, near fatal heart attack with permanent, severe damage to his heart, requiring three surgeries and is permanently disabled. If an affordable health insurance plan had been available, Mike would have been diagnosed at the first sign of illness, had a cheaper surgery and treatment for milder heart disease and, like most heart patients, would have been working several months later.”
Phyllis not only had to care for her husband, but her son had also been struggling with a chronic condition since he was a toddler, so her needs always came last. She started suffering the consequences of all the stress: “I was overcome with exhaustion in 2008, unable to get out of bed without feeling faint … I thought I was suffering from depression. Without health insurance or a job, I felt I could not afford an office visit … After a year of suffering, I finally went to the doctor. Being a Type II non-insulin-dependent diabetic, she took a finger stick glucose level. My supposed depression was actually a glucose level of 500. I was now a Type II insulin-dependent diabetic and working my way up to a diabetic coma.”
Even in the face of Phyllis’ astounding testimony, ranking Senator Rand Paul maintained that-–through a network of charity care, churches, and yes, the emergency room-–any American can get the care they need if they look hard enough.
According to the ranking Senator, “Anyone who wants to equate poverty with death must go to the third world to do so … American citizens are often immunized from disease or easily treated.”
Phyllis says that Senator Paul’s assessment just doesn’t sit well with her personal experience. If she had access to care, she may not have become insulin dependent. If her husband had received care when he needed it, his condition would not have progressed to a disabling and near-fatal level.
Thankfully, under the Affordable Care Act, families like Phyllis’ will be able to get premium subsidies based on their income to help them get the insurance they need to take care of themselves, and they won’t have to worry about being discriminated against based on their health status. However, Senator Paul and his cohorts don’t think the American people need to be guaranteed coverage.
Tell Rand Paul he’s out of touch. Americans need quality, affordable health coverage to get reliable access to care.