Where I am today is ultimately thanks to the VA General Assembly.
Let me again state that if Medicaid had been expanded in Virginia, I would not likely be where I am today with stage 4 cancer. It was never my intention to be caught without health care, nor was it my choice. There were far too many things that happened, unplanned for things, that made it impossible for me to obtain health care. It’s a bit of a long story to relay, but I know that I am not alone. There are many others with similar problems. We are the people who could have used a little bit of help in order to turn a bad situation around rather than leave it to grow worse. That help could have restored me to a level of health that would have allowed me to be more productive and not have to ask for help now.
I would likely still be safely employed with all the benefits, including health care, if the Town of Christiansburg had taken storm water management as seriously a few years ago as they do today. I left my job because the flooding at the Depot escalated significantly as new developments were built without effective storm water management. Many hours were spent out in the rain, at all times of the year, and with lightning, thunder, rain, sleet, hail, and/or snow, trying to keep the exiting stormwater drains open and draining. But, that was sort of okay, because there was money in savings to allow for the Cambria Toy Station to come into being.
The store had only been open for a few months when I noticed some physical problems that seemed to be due to low circulation in my hands and feet. I had noticed other things that didn’t seem quite right, including my inability to be out in the sun for more than five minutes and nearly constant fatigue. Enter Lupus. Insurance had been on hold until the store was up and running well, and now I had a “pre-existing” condition. Instead of a few hundred dollars a month, the insurance for me, would have been $1500/month and would not cover any of the myriad of problems created by Lupus.
Still, we figured we could work through this. The store was really beginning to thrive and things were starting to look hopeful…just in time for another “surprise.” A deputy arrived at our front door with notification of a lawsuit. Simply because I had shown up at some of the same public meetings as the authors of a blog, I was included in a lawsuit by a local developer. He assumed I was one of the authors of a blog that had been critical of his development practices. I was not associated with the blog at all. What unfolded had all of the classic marks of a SLAPP lawsuit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) intended to stop some of us from reporting on the activities of town government. My name was removed from the law suit, after it was shown that I had nothing to do with the blog article the developer was suing over, but at great cost ($$$) and the loss of business well after the lawsuit ended. Although falsely accused, the damage was done. Ultimately, the entire lawsuit was thrown out. My health was further compromised, and there was no money for routine medical checkups as the Lupus treatments took all of the available money. The Depression, I had to struggle with on my own, and as it deepened, my ability to function declined still further.
In order to keep the store going, I had to set aside the hope of getting insurance and try to get treatment “out of pocket.” Once again we restarted the process of rebuilding a customer base. Slowly things started getting better, and there was hope for insurance in the relatively near future. Then, the “straw that broke the camel’s back” arrived in the form of a major flood, the result of a storm water system that failed. This time it was 18″ of muddy water surrounding the Depot, $30,000 in lost products for the store, lost computers, and more. The store was closed for 3 months to get things dried out and fixed. Many of our regular customers assumed we had gone out of business, so we had to start the rebuilding process for the third time. Because of limited financial resources, I could not get the health care I needed, and I had to get the minimal care to be able to barely function. The symptoms of Depression and Lupus alone were more than enough to limit my ability to hold any job and severely limited my ability to work in the toy store. The decline in my health had a direct impact on the health of the store. Having to once again start the process of trying to rebuild a customer base was the focus, but, I had far less energy to make that happen.
Finally, I saw a bit of a light on the horizon. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) was proposed and enacted. It offered me a way to get the basic treatment that I needed to restore myself to some semblance of health and to be able to earn enough to purchase my own health insurance. Few people know that there is a “minimum income” requirement to qualify for the insurance from ACA health exchange. I did not meet the requirement. By this time, my total earnings were $450 per month and that has remained true to this day. That meant I would qualify for Medicaid with the expansion, but I did not earn enough to be able to get insurance otherwise.
Enter the Virginia General Assembly to smash my hopes of having a fighting chance to regain some of my life. “Expand Medicaid you say? Not hardly. Well, maybe we will study it and talk about it for a few years or decades or so, but our minds are made up, we will not expand Medicaid.” I continued on, struggling, trying to get one foot in front of the other and make enough money that I can keep some of my health care needs met, but out of necessity, those precluded the money to pay for preventative health care or to curb some of the effects of Depression. But, I was holding my own, if just barely, so with each day being a struggle in survival.
The medication used to manage the Lupus has some gastric side effects that I had to learn to live with and just accept as part of my daily life. Unfortunately, those side effects are the same as the symptoms for the form of cancer that I have only recently discovered that I have. With no resources for going to a doctor for routine checkups, thanks to no Medicaid expansion, by the time I was able to get medical help, the cancer was already at stage 4. In case you are not familiar with cancer, that is not a good place to be.
Finally, with a Supreme Court decision, I was able to marry my partner of 20 years, and together we do qualify for insurance under the ACA. Thanks to the ACA, even though I already have a very serious form of cancer, I cannot be excluded due to a pre-existing condition. That health insurance will not start until Dec. 1st and none of the costs already incurred this year will apply towards the $7,000 deductible. The deductible will have to be met for 2014 and again in 2015. With chemotherapy, it does not take very long to reach those deductibles. But with income levels well below the poverty line, they are going to be very difficult to meet.
Had the Virginia General Assembly simply allowed the expansion of Medicaid, my cancer could have been caught far earlier and would have had a much better long-term prognosis. Instead of being caught in a steady downward spiral of health, I could have gotten the help I needed to restore much of my life. Instead, due to their inaction, my life span has been seriously shortened. If you are one of those who like to talk about “death panels”, well there sits one in the form of the Virginia General Assembly and their failure to expand Medicaid.
I never wanted to have to ask anyone for help, not from government nor from any individual. I never wanted a free ride on the “public dole”. I simply wanted a chance to get back on my feet. I was denied that chance, and now I face the fact of a far shorter lifespan, a lot of discomfort and pain, and the effects of all the stigmas related to Depression, Lupus ,and Cancer. Thanks a lot VA General Assembly.
More importantly, I am not the only one in this position. There are many others, most of whom will not speak up. I have never been one to keep silent when I feel strongly about something, and this is one of those cases. While it is too late for me, it is not too late for many others. My hope is to merely squeeze out a few more years to get things done and have all my affairs in order. For others, the hope remains for them to live long, healthy, and productive lives.
Please contact those members of the General Assembly that represent you and let them know that expanding Medicaid can be done now and the process of identifying and dealing with any fraud issues can continue at the same time. They keep insisting that the abuse must be stopped first. Well, the problem with that is that people who could be helped are dying. The people who are committing fraud will simply keep doing it until they are caught. How many deaths will it take to balance the score between those genuinely needing help and those who commit fraud?
As much as I hate to do this, I am also asking for those who can to help offset some of the medical expenses to please do so. There is a button to the left for PayPal contributions to go into a special fund for my medical expenses. There is also information on where you can send or drop off a contribution. Asking for help like this is the hardest thing I have ever done. I’ve always been in a position where I was doing the helping, not the asking, but I have no other options. Any and all contributions, regardless of size, will be greatly appreciated.
Can you help with medical expenses?
This is NOT a tax deductible donation. It is a contribution to try to help offset medical costs for Carol’s cancer treatment.
If you do not wish to use PayPal, you can send contributions to:
630 Depot St. NE
Christiansburg, VA 24073
or just drop it off at the Depot.
All help is greatly appreciated.