Editor’s Note: This article is a part of an Op-Ed series, “Second Opinion,” where patient experts and health writers share their take on current research, news, and trends in health and medicine. The views expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions or views of HealthCentral.com.
Last spring, I spent 34 days in the hospital. Three weeks of this was in the ICU, receiving complex high-level care and treatment. For a month after I returned home, a visiting nurse came to take care of the tracheostomy stoma in my throat.
I paid for none of this. My friends in the United States who have gone through long hospitalizations or who are receiving complex care are drowning in medical bills.
I live in Canada, a country that has universal healthcare, also known as a single-payer system. Our government uses the taxes we pay every year to fund healthcare for everyone who lives here. It is an integral, almost sacred, part of Canadian society. Regardless of political beliefs, everyone in Canada, both citizens and politicians, believe that our healthcare system is the only way to go.
When the U.S. Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed, I rejoiced with those I knew who could now see a doctor and get their conditions treated. But now, I despair as I see Republicans go back again and again to dismantle and repeal a law that made such a huge change for so many.
What worries me especially is that the original intent to improve the ACA seems to disappear more and more with each successive kick at the can. Instead, we are now facing a wholesale — and it must be said, almost vindictive — obliteration of an Obama legacy. From where I sit, there seems to be no consideration for the millions of people who will be left without healthcare.
You might very well ask why I care, since this doesn’t affect me personally. And sure, my ability to see a doctor or be hospitalized should I need it is not in danger. But I have friends south of our border who depend on having access to health care.
Being able to get the care you need when you have a chronic illness impacts your entire life. Being able to get insurance, even with a pre-existing condition, means you can be under a doctor’s care and afford the medication you need.
That means you can get out of bed in the morning. It can mean that you can have children or be an involved parent for kids you already have. You may be able to be part of family get-togethers, take care of aging parents, get your own groceries, clean your own house, volunteer in the community, and work for a living. If you’re working, you become an active participant in the country’s economy and pay taxes that help pay for infrastructure, such as roads and fire departments. Having your chronic illness treated will also in the long term cost society less in lost productivity and healthcare monies.
Some will literally depend on healthcare for their lives. Without medical care and without treatment, people will die — either because illness ravages their bodies, or because it ravages their lives to the point where they cannot bear it anymore and end it themselves.
Dramatic? You bet. But also true. Twelve years ago, my rheumatoid arthritis flared out of control and destroyed my life in the process. I got funding — government funding — for the medication that saved my life then and continues to save my life every day. Without medical care and without access to medication, I would have died — 12 years ago and again in 2016.
And that’s a situation that so many people are now facing in the United States.
It seems to me that the powerful in Washington have forgotten that they have a responsibility to make the country better for all American citizens.
And that includes those who get sick.
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Lene Andersen is the Community Leader for HealthCentral’s RA Community. Lene (pronounced Lena) is an award-winning writer, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. She’s written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Follow Lene on Twitter @TheSeatedView and on Facebook. Watch her story on HealthCentral.