Last Wednesday, my only sister was taken to emergency because of difficulty breathing. She's had a history of numerous illnesses ranging from lupus, seizures and osteoporosis but this particular visit was more related to her asthma, or so she thought. After being seen by the physician it was determined that her breathing difficulties were worse than anticipated as she was diagnosed with having a case of pneumonia. Feeling blessed to be able to get immediate medical care Karen was of the ranks of the fortunate known as the insured, meaning that she does in-fact have health care coverage which she acquired after being declared medically disabled after her thirty third seizure.
Yes, it took thirty three seizures, 5 appeals, 4 years and 3 lawyers but Karen Jones was finally declared disabled and was granted full disability which included full health care coverage, far from an easy feat but quite reassuring to Karen as she continued on through life. Unable to work due to her disability, Karen lived alone off of the $563 disability check each month as best she could, regularly robbing Peter to pay Paul, but all along able to make ends meet from check to check, and doing so always with a smile.
Even though times were really harder than Karen lead others to know she was thankful for the roof over her head, her access to medical care when needed, her monthly check and the ability to basically survive, which may be the reason that she developed the characteristic of never asking for help from others regardless of how much she may have needed it at times.
So she didn't like the fact that she had to trouble a neighbor to take her to emergency on Wednesday but she just couldn't breathe well. After the diagnosis that pneumonia was the culprit Karen signed the final papers as her prescription form was being handed to her. "Get this filled, take 4 of these per day and this will clear up your breathing" were the directions given as Karen prepared to go home, wheezing profusely along the way. The neighbor takes her directly to the pharmacy which is where Karen is told that this much needed medication will cost her $197. It's the end of the month, funds are extremely low, and Karen is far from having an extra couple hundred dollars laying around, so she goes home, takes some extra inhales from her breathing machine, and decides to toughen it out until the first of the month, just a few days away, when she'll get her next check and have the money to buy her medicine.
Being a prideful, independent woman Karen continues to tough it out each day never showing to others her true discomfort or need. All day long on Thursday and Friday Karen constantly thinks to herself how much she wishes she had been able to afford to buy the medicine as she does a mental countdown to the first of the month with every inhale through her machine. "I shouldn't have paid the light bill...I should have bought less food" are just a couple of the thoughts that haunt Karen as she figures ways she could have had the much needed money. And on that Friday night as she lay in bed she takes a few extra puffs from her breathing machine to get her through the night.
On the early eve of Saturday morning around 4:30 or so, Karen Jones, my only sister, died, age 51. Apparently, around 4:00 she had severe difficulties breathing, strained to call a neighbor who immediately got dressed and came down to the house, knocked on the door like crazy but there was no answer. Feeling great concern a call was made to the police who quickly arrived, gained access into the house, and there lie Karen, dead on the floor, beside her breathing machine.
Although we all were well aware of Karen's history of sicknesses I never expected my sister to die at such an early age. Of course I am of great sorrow and pain over the loss of my sister but I am also very angry with our health care system. I am angry, no actually in shock by the fact that my sister, Karen was declared to have full health care coverage through her disability benefits. But since it did not cover her medication, which she could not afford to buy out of pocket, my sister died with this so-called full coverage. What kind of full coverage does one really have if they are forced to pay for expensive medications out of their measly $563 monthly check ? I truly believe that if my sister had had her medication she would be alive today. It is absolutely disgraceful that our health care system has the gall to claim they are supplying full health care benefits to the disabled while simultaneous depriving them of the very medicines needed for survival.
Believe it or not, you could say Karen was actually one of the lucky ones only needing one medication compared to others who frequently need 2 and 3 medications, at costs which exceed their entire monthly check. So many who are sick, struggling and classified as fully covered are are in fact struggling helplessly, going without vitally important medications.
Throughout the health care reform debate many have argued that there is no need for strong reform of our system. Most others though do recognize the severe need to reform health care coverage in our country so that we no longer have 47 million Americans who have absolutely no health care at all. 47 million who do not have the basic right to get medical help when they are sick. This is sad and pathetic. Recently, an organization, RAM, known for offering free medical care in the Amazon has been forced to offer their services right here in our country. In Los Angeles, in Iowa and other U.S. locales, hard working Americans who can't afford health care coverage line-up by the thousands for free, much needed health care, similar to scenes in third world countries.
And while we must make certain that health care reform addresses the needs of the uncovered we must also make certain that we address the needs of the category now known as the under-covered. These are the people like my sister who have health care coverage but for one reason or another, tend to find out the hard way, usually when they are sick, that their coverage wasn't as 'full' as they thought.
Of course, it will haunt me forever as to why my sister didn't pick up the phone and ask me for the money, but folks that know her know, that's just Karen. And there are millions of other Karens out there, in desperate need and dire straits, but too independent to ask for much needed help. It is our responsibility, our duty to do everything we can to help the 47 million uncovered and the additional millions of under-covered to have the basic right to true health care coverage.
I hope my sister's passing did not include suffering. And now, even more, I hope that we all across this great land, will unite, do the right thing and pass a strong health reform bill which includes a strong public option so that we can curtail the suffering of millions more ahead. We must fight for the 47 million and the Karen Jones's of America. This is a battle that must be won!