I pay 240 dollars a month for health insurance. This might not seem like a lot of money to you, but when you’re not working, it’s a good chunk of change. Not that I’m complaining about not working. I plan for it, it’s the nature of being a freelancer, plus it gives me time to volunteer for the Democrats.
Since I go hang out with the staffers on a regular basis, they’ve got to know me and what my political issues are. They know that my marriage to a damn foreigner makes me a rabid advocate for international diplomacy. And they know because I’m a freelancer who runs her own business I care about the cost of insurance. That’s why they invited me to be a speaker on a panel with Senator Patty Murray.
Senator Murray, in case you were wondering, is tiny. I could have tossed her over my shoulder and made a run for it. So tiny is she that I’ll bet I could have made it to the front door before I’d been stopped. But that is neither here nor there.
The room was filled, mostly with seniors, though there were a few students, and some local government reps. There were three other panel speakers. The idea was that each person would talk about their issues with health insurance and then, the Senator would respond. I went first. I talked about how I used to get my insurance from my agencies, but I was always ending up having to pay COBRA when I could least afford it. I talked about how I’m the primary income in our house and how when the husband relocates, I’ll be paying out for both of us. I talked about how employer based health insurance doesn’t work for me. I talked about how I love my work and my lifestyle, but that doesn’t alleviate the pinch I feel when I have to pay that bill every month.
Next up was Mary. She’s 59 and a survivor of two strokes. Her husband, who’s 60, was laid off two years ago from his job as a computer programmer. Mary shells out a lot of money for the medication she needs to manage her post-stroke condition. Her disability and social security are what keeps their household afloat. Her husband’s unemployment ran out long ago. It shouldn’t shock you to learn that they have a hard time paying for everything Mary needs.
Then was Valerie. She’s 52 and she’s a nurse. She spoke about the delivery of health care from the other side. An insurance company they used to work for recently dropped their certification of their facilities. Patients entering without the correct insurance are billed at double the rate of those with the correct insurance. Apparently, you can get care in the emergency room or the walk in facility, and they are two totally different pay scales. She says the docs and nurses want desperately to do right by their patients, but they are regularly faced with wrenching decisions about care as they find out what’s paid for and what’s not.
Kelly spoke last. Kelly is 46 and has Parkinson’s disease. She couldn’t hold the microphone so the Senator set the stand in front of her. Kelly said stress that makes the shaking worse and that she was so nervous that if she spoke without notes, she’d just lose it. She then read an eloquently composed plea for stem cell research. She read about how she’d been laid off from her job a mere three months before she was diagnosed. She read about how her symptoms have progressed. She made a joke about how while she’s intrigued by the idea of being cloned, what she really hoped for was to clone a Petri dish full of the cells she needs to cure her disease.
The Senator had reasonable comments for all of us, naturally. But the thing that stays with me is how humbling my companions were. A woman who’s had two strokes. A 52 year old nurse who really wants to help people on both sides of the counter. And a woman who’s had her life ravaged by disease. God, I thought, HELP THEM! LOOK AT THEM! CAN YOU SEE THEM? DOES ANYONE SEE THEM?!
After we wrapped up, I got to talking with a man in the audience. “This is what they need to see,” he said. “They need to see that policy is affecting real people.” He’s not fucking kidding. I would like to have seen the president of the United States tell Kelly he would not approve the research that gave her the only hope she had.
I shook hands with the Senator and then talked with my colleagues. They were sympathetic to my economic worries over my monthly insurance bill. I was awed by their strength. What an honor to be with them. No one is going to send those kind women to Washington to address Congress, so we will have to send representatives who have met them. When I plead with people to vote Democratic, I usually ask them to do it for me because I’m so wrapped up in foreign policy issues. But now I know Valerie and Mary and Kelly. I’m not voting for me anymore. I’m voting for them.