“Do you have any Advil with you?” a tech asked me. I was having a port installed. Prior to cancer treatment, my husband thought a port was a place to park a very big boat. I thought it was a delightful beverage to enjoy in moderation after a special dinner. In Northern California, where I lived, communities are surrounded by grapes that produce that strong syrupy treat.
But I was having a different kind of port that day, and in a way, it was a treat, too.
That day’s port was a little device planted under the surface of my skin that would allow medical professionals to inject me with the life-saving fluids I’d need over the course of my chemotherapy treatment. Those fluids would go through my port so my delicate veins wouldn’t have to be poked with needles every time I needed meds. Whoever came up with that idea was a genius.
The guy who installed my port looked like a construction worker in scrubs. “I actually used to be a contractor,” he told me. “Then I switched careers.”
The fact that this guy had been a builder was great comfort. I imagined him finessing a two-by-four to fit expertly into a window frame or measuring with precision expensive molding for someone’s high-end living room. If he could handle the mechanics of those projects, I felt sure he could install my port.
A few minutes later I was drifting off to a comfortable sedation, asleep and awake at the same time. I was vaguely aware of the activity going on around me, but I didn’t have a care in the world. It’s kind of a surreal experience.
When the port was in, and I was sleeping off the remainder of the drugs swirling in my head and through my blood, I heard the tech ask me again about Advil. The fact is that I always have Advil with me.
We’re a headache family. I started getting headaches when I was a kid, as did my husband. Our poor daughter is doomed to the same fate. Usually, if I can get an Advil at the earliest signs of pain, I can stave off a migraine.
So, I told the tech that I had some in my purse.
“Good,” he said. He knew our insurance situation was precarious. As self-employed middle-class rural dwellers, we were deep in Obamacare’s hole, and at any moment I feared I would be booted out of the hospital, cancer and all.
“If I give you an Advil, it’ll cost $26 for two. You didn’t hear this from me, but you should go ahead and take two of your own.” He handed me a plastic cup of luke-warm water, and I popped down two pills after he turned his head the other way.
On New Year’s Eve, 2013, I learned I had cancer. The next day, Obamacare kicked in, a policy which rendered my family’s health insurance invalid. That year, my husband and I traveled over 10,000 miles for treatment. I am profoundly grateful for the care I ultimately received, but that policy locked me out of treatment closer to home. In so many ways, my family will pay a permanent price tag for the ACA, and what it did to us at a terrible juncture in our lives.
When the dust settled and we were able to secure a new insurance policy, our rates tripled. And the coverage we have now is far inferior to that which we had before. Since Donald Trump has taken over the presidency, Republicans are scrambling to come up with a new law. Analysts predict it could have the same disastrous consequences that the first massive reform rendered.
Given what happened to my family at the onset of Obamacare, of course I fear that I will once again be collateral damage of an arbitrary law that leaves small voiceless groups to fall between its cracks, a miserable place to be.
While it’s just as impossible to understand this proposed law as the old policy, I know one thing for certain: I’ll vote for the policy that fixes the $26 Advils.
Without threatening democracy, without taking extreme partisan stands, I believe every one of us can agree on one thing. Advils shouldn’t cost that much.
A bottle of Port? Yes, $26 is a reasonable price. But two Advils? I get a headache just thinking about it.
All of us, even our lawmakers, know there’s a better way.
(Editor’s note: The Republican-led healthcare policy reform effort was set for a full House on March 24, but shelved when leaders realized it would not pass in its current form.)
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