Op-Ed piece in Dayton Daily News, October 22, 2012
I'm a physician—an internist—and a novelist. In 2001, at age 45, I developed chest pain and shortness of breath with exertion. I was a pre-menopausal woman who exercised, married with four sons ages 6 to 12, and had not a single cardiac risk factor. I thought: Thank goodness I'm a doctor, or I might worry about this silly chest pain! It turned out I had a narrowing at the beginning of the big artery down the front of the heart. My cardiologist put a stent in. He couldn't open a smaller blockage that continued to cause me chest pain, but after a year of medication my angina went away.
I had left my private practice group to spend more time with my family and writing. Once my stent was in, I decided not to return to medicine other than as a volunteer at a clinic for patients without health insurance. My personal goal was to survive through my sons' Bnei Mitzvot.
I did, no problem. I exercised and took my meds and lived a busy life and almost forgot I had heart disease, which is why I shocked myself by bursting into tears in a restaurant last November when my husband told me that, with a $10, 000 deductible, our family's health insurance premium was jumping from $500 to $2500 a month.
I was the problem. My husband's previous health insurer had folded. Without me, our family's rates would stay the same. Alas, three insurance agents couldn't find any health coverage for me alone. My coronary artery disease was a "pre-existing condition." It's an interesting experience to know that health insurers don't want you. It feels like: You?? You couldn't pay us enough to take on you. My husband and I decided I should wait the required six months without health insurance and apply for the Obamacare "pre-existing condition" coverage pool.
Thank goodness for Obamacare, I thought. Early last June, near the end of my six months without health insurance, I was alone in New York City attending a book conference. Out walking one morning I found myself bumping into buildings on my right. Odd, I thought. To my left I saw a set of twins in matching shirts and ties walking toward me. New York, I thought. Then I saw more twins. I knew what was happening, even the section of my brain likely involved. I thought, "I'm like that lady scientist who wrote a book about her stroke."
Happily, my symptoms went away. I had not had a complete stroke but a temporary ischemic attack—a warning. The next morning, in the airport security line, I had another TIA, but this one lasted five minutes instead of an hour. And once I got home to Dayton, the support was tremendous. I got chicken and noodles and good advice ("Slow down!" "Listen to your body!") Doctor friends saw me as a patient and didn't bill me. I was so lucky. But, but...
At the same time I was recuperating from my TIAs and adjusting to new medicine, the country was waiting for word on the Supreme Court's decision on Obamacare. Clearly, after TIAs on top of coronary artery disease, no insurer would ever want me. I fretted: what if Obamacare was overturned and its "pre-existing condition" coverage disappeared? What if I had a stroke and bankrupted my family? Would divorcing my husband help my family financially? (We still had kids in college.) Wouldn't it be better for my family if I simply died?
Back when I was a physician in a private care practice, I didn't understand the despair and guilt and hopelessness a sick person often feels. Sickness can be brutal. For strength after my TIAs I decided to go again to Israel—as I had the previous four summers—to volunteer teaching English. What else would I do all July—sit around and wait for a stroke? In Israel I prayed at the Western Wall for a friend with leukemia whose health insurance coverage was about to run out. Of course, I was also praying for myself. When I turned from the wall to meet up with my fellow volunteers, an Israeli friend held up his smartphone and said, "Good news! The Supreme Court is keeping Obamacare!"
And, indeed, early in August I got a big white envelope from Medical Mutual of Ohio, complete with a letter welcoming me to their high-risk insurance pool. They wanted me! Amazing. I felt like a regular person. Now, I hear Obamacare being called "socialist" and "evil"; I hear politicians say that health insurance in this country is not really a problem. I wonder, often, what we as a society want. We are humans with imperfect bodies and souls, and we live in an imperfect world. Shouldn't we help each other?
We sickies need to tell our stories. We're not talking points, we're people. And we are reminders that everyone's future is uncertain. Even the healthiest American could be one diagnosis or accident away from a different, difficult world.
—Martha Moody (essay published on the op-ed page of the Dayton Daily News, October 22, 2012)