I want to share an e-mail I got yesterday from Steven Piasecki of the Catch Fire Movement, of which I'm an advisory board member. That's Steven, with the mask on... not in Flagstaff or Phoenix of Tucson, but in Sydney, Australia. His partner was diagnosed with a deadly form of cancer not unlike the one I lived through a few years ago. I was "lucky." I was old enough to have Medicare to save my life. I stopped looking at the bills when they topped $2 million so I don't know what the years of treatment were eventually billed at. But I do know that the quarterly follow-up treatments-- what I call my "tune-ups"-- are 6-figure events. The letter helps explain why Blue America doesn't endorse any congressional candidates-- no matter how otherwise good they are-- unless they are full-throated supporters of Medicare-for-All. This was Steven's letter:
Two weeks ago, my partner Paul was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). AML is a rare form of blood cancer that can display mild symptoms, then progress rapidly. Without treatment, people with AML can die within months.
Fortunately, when Paul began feeling pain in his side, I pressured him enough to go to the emergency room. At the time, he was between jobs and without health insurance. He resisted for a while knowing how much an ER visit would cost out of pocket, but when the pain got unbearable, he gave in.
What we thought might turn out to be just an enlarged spleen or an infection turned into a life-altering cancer diagnosis that has flipped our world upside-down.
Because Paul was uninsured in America, we were looking at a long road of chemotherapy, in-patient treatment, around the clock care from nurses and staff, and potential stem cell transplants. All of that would either come out of pocket or we'd spend endless hours jumping through hoops to make sure we wouldn't go bankrupt.
So we made a choice. We told the doctors to prepare him to fly back to his home country of Australia where they have a strong public healthcare system that will allow him to receive quality treatment free of charge. They spent the next few days lowering his white blood cell count so he wouldn't have a stroke due to the altitude, preparing his kidneys so they wouldn't fail, and infusing him with new red blood cells.
The whole time on the 25 hour flight, I feared for Paul's life. I was afraid I would turn around and see him incapacitated in our pursuit to try and receive quality, affordable healthcare. I was afraid he would die before we even had a chance to save him.
Thankfully, we made the long trek without any problems. Our friend picked us up and we immediately drove to St. Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney where he’s currently receiving world class care.
It’s outrageous that it is easier for us to uproot our entire life and move to Australia than it is to be uninsured in America.
But you want to know what’s even more twisted about all of this? We’re lucky that we even have the option to move somewhere else to receive affordable, quality healthcare.
Americans have $140 billion in outstanding medical debt.
79 million Americans have problems with medical bills or debt.
Tens of millions of Americans are uninsured and even more are underinsured.
If Paul was only an American citizen, we would have to resign ourselves to a lifetime of medical debt that we couldn’t pay off even if we tried.
I’m so grateful that we had this option, even though we were charged with $45,000 in medical bills for three nights in the hospital and an ER visit. I’m also so frustrated that we have such a broken healthcare system in America that millions more are trapped with no way out.
Going through all of this has only made me more dedicated to the work we’re doing here at Catch Fire to transform our policies so that they actually work for all of us, not just the wealthy.