Why is Health Political?

Poor Wifey is just sitting in her comfy chair, staring out the window. The stress of uncertainty has stolen the resilient upbeat attitude she’s known for and has replaced it with a tense heaviness, bordering on despair.

Every morning she listens to the news as she lays in bed, preparing her shots, doing her breathing treatments, the ever-present oxygen machine humming in the corner. “Do they know I will die if they get their way?” I shrug, trying not to think of the decisions being made, the bribes (I’m sorry, “campaign contributions”) being made. What can I say?

Every day about noon she starts to get anxious and will go sit in her comfy chair even though she can only sit up for a short time before the pain and cramping get too bad. She’ll listen to her Bible studies with her special Bible in her lap, her hands too weak and painful to hold it for more than a few seconds, gazing blankly out the window waiting for the mail ma’am to drive by. “It’s here,” she’ll say. I’ll put my shoes on, “I’ll be right back.” As I walk up the lane I can see her in the window, anticipation, resignation, fear, anger, all showing in her eyes, all overshadowed by sorrow as she watches me meander up to the mailbox. I can never make myself do this chore without childish attempts to stall; I’ll pause to pull a few weeds, maybe throw the frisbee for the dog to chase before making myself open the mailbox.

“Anything?” she’ll ask, her voice tense. “No, just bills, I’ll reply, setting the various envelopes on the table. She’ll painfully pull herself out of the chair and follow her walker back to her room, one foot slowly in front of the other. The doctor is proud that she can make the fifteen-foot trek without her wheelchair, but it costs her – she’ll be on oxygen, napping most of the afternoon. We won’t talk about the mailbox until evening.

“Do you think we’ll get it?” she’ll ask. “Of course,” I answer. But after two and a half years of waiting, two routine denials, and nearly three months after her hearing, I have to admit I’m not as sure as I once was.

If the judge rules that she’s disabled, she’ll be eligible for Social Security payments. That used to feel important to us, it was all we thought about after Lincoln Financial stopped her disability payments- that little bit of money she’d get each month to help with the bills. Not much – about enough each month to cover one day’s worth of medication if nothing else goes wrong – but enough to make her feel as though she’s contributing, as though the three degrees she earned and three decades of work mattered. But now our focus has changed.

If the judge rules she’s disabled AND backdates the ruling, she may be eligible for Medicare or Medicaid in a year. If those in our Senate succeed in repealing the Affordable Care Act, or change the rules to include a lifetime cap on insurance benefits or allow insurance companies to use pre-existing conditions to deny coverage, she will, inevitably, die – unless the judge rules that she’s eligible for Medicare in time. The timing is excruciatingly critical, with the highest stakes.

“Do you think we’ll hear from the judge soon?” she asks. “Of course,” I answer. “I’m sure the letter will get here this week for sure.” I smile and kiss her on the forehead, careful to avoid bumping any needles or tubes that may be connected to her. “Probably tomorrow.”

I go to my room and lay down for the night and pretend I don’t hear her cry. She’s too strong to cry from the ever-present pain, and her faith is too strong for her to cry out of pity for herself. When she cries, she cries for the thousands, millions of other people who are in similar situations. And, I think, sometimes she cries in sorrow that our nation now values profit over compassion, that we allow private disability insurance companies to blatantly break their social contracts without fear of retribution as long as they show their shareholders a profit. She cries because she’s not the only one.

She cries because she can’t do anything else.

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