A health care solution must be found

This editorial column written by Maria McCoy previously appeared in the print edition of The GRIP.

In the days prior to my Dad’s unexpected death, he spent five days in ICU at a hospital in Florida. You see, my dad had a heart attack on Monday, June 26. It was allegedly a “minor” heart attack. He spent the next five days in ICU and then was released to home on Friday afternoon, June 30, directly from ICU, with no step-down unit.

He died the following morning. A little more than twelve hours after being released. The hospital knew he lived alone and knew he could not afford his medications. He was only 64.

My dad worked his entire life, up until March 2017. He was a truck driver and he loved it. LOVED it. At the end of February, he had a heart attack and was told he only had around 40 percent heart function and that he would need a heart transplant to fix the issues.

Because of this, they pulled his medical card for his CDL and he suddenly became unemployed. Medicine could help him, of course. If he quit smoking and started eating healthier, he wouldn’t need a transplant. Supposedly. And so that’s what he did.

He was a relatively clean eater in the first place – he didn’t eat a whole lot of red meats, and he drank nothing but water and black coffee, but he adjusted his diet, and he tried very hard to quit smoking.

He had been smoking for fifty years. That’s a long time to quit cold turkey, so he did the best he could. To my knowledge, he was down to maybe two cigarettes per day and some days not at all. That’s a huge improvement from three to four packs a day.

He was unable to drive a truck at that point and the doctor told him he couldn’t work at all. Not fast food, not Walmart. Nothing. My dad decided to apply for disability and for Florida Medicaid. He was turned down for Medicaid because Florida did not expand their Medicaid program under Obamacare (and neither did Georgia). He had no income, was fully disabled and had worked his entire life, but could not qualify for help.

My dad’s savings ran out in May and he began to work on lawn mowers and mow lawns so that he could afford to buy his medication. Mowing lawns in the Florida heat and humidity, no less.

The stress of that caused his next heart attack, the one I mentioned occurred on June 26. The hospital released him without a step-down unit because he had no insurance to pay for the lodging.

Make no mistake about it – while my dad’s smoking largely contributed to his initial heart condition and heart attack, working in the Florida sun with poor heart function to pay for his bills and medication caused his second heart attack. The stress of not being able to pay for what he needed caused his second heart attack.

One side of our government argues that everyone should be able to afford basic health insurance. I am not saying he didn’t have some culpability because he did, but he also grew up in a time when smoking wasn’t researched well enough to know the inherent dangers until it was too late. I’m proud that he could reduce his nicotine to such a large extent.

While I am a registered republican, I tend to agree because people are literally out here dying and our government is still playing politics. The other side of the government argues that if you want health insurance, you should “get a job and pay for it.”

So, please tell me, what exactly could my dad have done to afford health insurance after he was disabled? He worked for almost 50 years, paying into a system he would never be approved to utilize when, and if, he ever needed it.

After my dad’s death, I received a call from his disability attorney. It seems that my dad was denied for disability because he was disabled in March 2017 and they do not pay retroactive benefits for the first five months you are disabled. That means that the government expects someone to be disabled with little to no income for five months before they can access benefits. In the states that did not expand under Obamacare, these same people have no insurance during that time. No way to cover medications.

Charities also denied my dad because he was a single male with no dependents. There are so many people needing help that even charities must regulate who they can help, and a single male with no dependents did not qualify.  My dad, the man that paid over $54,000 into Medicare and Medicaid, died within the five-month period that disability requires before paying benefits.

Why is this happening? Why can’t our government work together, both sides, to recognize that people out here in the real world are hurting? People are losing health insurance because they can’t afford it.

States cannot afford to expand their Medicaid programs because while Obamacare initially provided subsidies for states that did expand, those subsidies had an expiration date. After that date, the funding falls back on the states, and the Medicaid system will collapse.

Obamacare did not work and this new Trumpcare will not either, because it’s almost the same exact plan, just dressed up a little fancier. Politicians are patting each other on the backs to have healthcare plans, but where is the actual healthcare reform?

We need real help. Real change. The only way we will get either is if both sides work together to come up with a solution – a solution where people like my dad don’t fall through the cracks. A solution where middle class doesn’t bear the burden alone.

Our government needs to work for us the way our forefathers intended them to. Keep this in mind when you go to vote. Maybe both sides need a wakeup call. I wonder if either side would be so quick to push their health care plans through if they had to experience what my family just went through.

The week my dad was in ICU he said to me, “I’ll die before the state helps me get any type of benefits.”

Unfortunately, he was right.

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