How America’s healthcare system affects my family (and yours)

Originally published March 21, 2018 on Medium

Financial burdens cause stress that ripples through a family in untold ways. Studies show that medical debt is the #1 cause of bankruptcies in the U.S., and an estimated 37.5 percent of suicides are connected to financial burdens. But this only shows the extreme. Multiply this stress throughout just one town, and you have what one sociological and psychological study after another proves: a community that lives in a constant state of fear, anger, and depression.

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I would give anything to have my father back, to know him as an adult, for him to watch me take his life lessons and apply them to my life.

- Alison Hartson

My family’s story

My father died when I was 20 years old. He left my stepmother with nearly $1 million of debt. He had to decide what bills to pay, and which ones would wait, but this was something I better understood as I got older. He worked extremely hard to make us happy and to ensure that his kids always had food, clothes, shelter, and presents during the holidays. Sadly, my story is not a unique one in America.

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My father, Eveard Hartson, U.S. Air Force

My dad dealt with several health issues, but it was the pancreatic tumor that finally took him from us. Colon cancer and pancreatic tumors run on my dad’s side of the family. My paternal grandmother, one of my sisters, one of my brothers, and my father have all died from these two related diseases. Another brother of mine, Matt, was diagnosed with this condition at the age of 10.

The doctor was clear: Matt must have surgery by the time he turned 20 or else he could get cancer that would surely kill him. Before that surgery, however, our father passed away when Matt was just 15. Matt then lost his insurance a year later when his mom, my step mom, lost her job.

Matt’s surgery would cost us tens of thousands of dollars. We searched and searched for insurance and were either denied or told his monthly premium would cost us money we couldn’t afford because he had a pre-existing condition.

My family ended up pulling together to get my brother insurance. On the day of his surgery, we found out that we had to pay the hospital $5,000 before the surgeon would operate. This was apparently an oversight by the specialist. We were at a loss. Matt had already been on a long waiting list and we didn’t know how much longer we could put off surgery without risking death. Ultimately we pulled together, once again, and got the money. But, how many people can do that? How many people would have no other option but to cancel the surgery?

Matt had his entire colon removed at the age of 20, but the doctor told us that his polyps were so rampant throughout his stomach that there was only so much she could do. He moved in with me for several months post-surgery so that I could look after my little brother.

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My brother Matt, and his son Elijah

Today, Matt has a beautiful son, Elijah, who has the same condition as his father. Matt continues to live at risk of bankruptcy between his health issues, his son’s, and doing everything he can to maintain a job and pay his bills, let alone try to pay off his medical expenses. He has bent over backwards to avoid bankruptcy. This stress has had a detrimental effect on my brother’s health and happiness in a number of ways.

Elijah, thankfully, has Medi-Cal. Matt tried to get himself and Elijah health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, but the premium was more than he could afford. My brother and my nephew are just two of the millions of people still without insurance under the Affordable Care ActSo is my sister, Michelle, who lives every day in pain from a host of medical issues. Without a doubt, the ACA has helped millions of people, but there are still millions out there — like those in my family — who are left out.

As the only industrialized nation that does not treat healthcare as a human right, and as the wealthiest nation in the world, we can do better. We must.

I would give anything to have my father back, to know him as an adult, for him to watch me take his life lessons and apply them to my life. I would give anything to make my brother both happy and healthy, to ensure that my sister can live her life as pain-free as possible.

No family, no person, should have to spend their entire life on the brink of financial ruin due to illness or any other health-related event. Yet millions do. This is why I am fighting for a Medicare for All system that will give every single person the healthcare they deserve, the healthcare that is their right.

Opponents of Medicare for All will ask how we will pay for such a system. But, the question is not whether we can afford it. We know that it is substantially more affordable than our current system. When we take a holistic approach to understanding the ripple effects a sick America has on our economy, our societal values, and our pursuit of health and happiness for all, the real question becomes: Can we afford not to?

How I’m Fighting Back

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, opposes a Medicare for All healthcare system. She uses Corporate Republican talking points to justify taking absolutely no action to fight for my family’s right to a happy, healthy life: “If single-payer healthcare is going to mean the complete takeover by the government of all healthcare, I am not there.” She in fact works against your family’s right to be able to pay all of your bills and take care of your health when she spreads misinformation about a Medicare for All system. Senator Feinstein insults our intelligence when she purports to be acting in our best interests while she rakes in campaign donations from the healthcare industry.

Dianne Feinstein has not lived my life. She has not lived yours. She’s the 10th wealthiest member of Congress. Her husband, Richard Blum, is worth billions. Being wealthy in and of itself is not the problem, but Feinstein’s wealth has protected her from our everyday struggles to get by and — dare we think it — get ahead. She has been surrounded by status quo politicians and lobbyists for at least 50 years. Her reality is that of the 1 percent of people who feel entitled to make decisions for the rest of us, yet who also don’t understand what it means to have to make difficult choices surrounding bills, healthcare, and family happiness.

Californians and Americans deserve better. You and I deserve the right to a positive bank balance in the face of life-threatening illness. We deserve to have the best healthcare available, not only the healthcare we can afford.

It’s time for change. It’s time for healing. It’s time that we have representatives who know that fighting for the working class means understanding how every single decision affects our total quality of life. That is why I’m challenging Dianne Feinstein for U.S. Senate. I, like you, am done with policies that serve 1 percent of this county and set the rest of us up for constant struggle. I hope you’ll join me in this fight for our families.

Ricardo Gonzalez