I went to a local town hall forum on health care hosted by my local congresswoman Betty McCollum last week.
Overall, it was a disappointing and depressing event with two main camps of citizens: those who were in favor of a single-payer health care system and those who loudly opposed that idea as "socialism."
In fact, Congresswoman McCollum had to abruptly end the session when it devolved into an ugly shouting match - vocal members of both camps shouting at her in a discourteous and - frankly - disgusting manner.
Between those two camps were a few - but only a few - moderate voices. One was a 31-year old woman named Ellie Church. She told the attendees she was born in 1978 10 weeks premature.
She summarized her talk in a followup email to me:
"I weighed 3 pounds and had an APGAR score of 0. My mom went into early labor and they tried for 2 days to stop it.
The letter my dad received from his insurance company said that although he had coverage, they were not going to cover my care because he hadn't added me as a dependant to his insurance plan...because I was born 10 weeks early. He fought them and eventually they did agree to cover me."
But as a result of this experience, she says she is one of the only people who can truly say that she has been fighting health insurance companies for EVERY DAY OF HER LIFE. She continued:
"I prefer a single-payer health care system, but I would be happy with affordable, accessible health care that is administratively simple and available to everyone. I am especially adamant that insurance companies be unable to deny coverage or charge higher premiums for pre-existing conditions or lifestyle choices such as smoking or obesity, since they are most often the people who need access to good health care the most. I'm a cancer-survivor, and have been denied coverage by insurance companies more times than I can count because of it. Insurance has also refused to cover the recommended, evidence-based follow-up screenings that I'm supposed to have for the rest of my life. They are expensive doctor visits, but they're necessary to make sure that any recurrence of cancer or other late effects are caught early. I've spent countless hours writing letters and speaking on the phone with insurance companies to get them to cover these appointments. Many people who are sick don't have the time and resources to do that, so they don't, and the insurance company succeeds in denying their claim."
We need to be sure that voices and stories like Ellie's aren't lost in the cacophony of rhetoric that may dominate the debate over health care reform.