Here is one very small, very personal, reason why this matters quite desperately for my family.
In 2015, my father was living in Panamá when he came to spend Christmas with Sherod and me. It only took a couple of days for us to realize that at 89, he was getting quite frail. It would not be long before he’d need more help than he could get in Panamá. With my brother, Hans, living in Belgium, and my brother Nils in the UK, none of us had the flexibility to provide him care on on ‘as needs’ basis.
Dad, Sherod, and I decided to find out what it would take for Sherod and I to sponsor my dad for residency so he could live out the rest of his days here in Lowndesboro. We learned three things very quickly: 1) Because there had been no previous conversation of a move like this, he could stay in the US and apply for a change in visa status from tourist to permanent resident. If he left to apply for the visa from Panamá, it could easily take 5-10 years before he’d make it to the top of the waiting list. 2) Dad could not apply for any public assistance; for 5 years, Sherod and I would be completely responsible for any expenses he could not cover himself. After 5 years, he could apply for citizenship and qualify for Medicare, thus perhaps lessening my husband’s and my financial exposure. 3) Because it had been launched a few years before, as soon as he got his green card, Dad would be eligible to participate in Obamacare, though with no subsidies or tax breaks.
We completed his application for residency, held our breath, three adults figuring out how to live together. I left home at 18 and only returned home for one or two week visits so Sherod and I were both strangers to my dad. We prayed he’d have no medical emergencies. Every part of his life back in Panamá, including his beloved dogs, Pía and Mouse, went into what felt like a state of suspended animation while we waited for his application to be decided on. And then, in May of 2016, his Green Card arrived. Immediately, he applied for insurance under the federal marketplace program because Alabama had deliberately chosen not to have a state marketplace. The insurance wasn’t cheap–$730.00/month plus additional for dental insurance. Additionally, though he’d start paying in June, his coverage would actually not start until August 1. Of course, literally, the week before his coverage began, Dad got sick enough to land in the hospital overnight. The bill came to $15,000.
By 2017, the premiums had jumped to $1032 per month. This year, they increased to $1325, or half of his total monthly expenses. It is tough—the bottom line is my dad has funds to cover his living expenses for about another 10 years. We don’t have any illusions—under Trump, we do not expect that my dad will be given citizenship so Medicare is not an option. Fortunately, this year, the monthly premiums only went up by $52.00 so that gives us a little breathing room. But we continue to wait and watch as our current leadership does its best to dismantle Obamacare without having a viable alternative in place, especially \for someone like my dad.
Sherod and I are in a double bind. Luz María is in a program that costs over 150,000 a year because she needs such intensive care. It’s a program funded by Medicaid. As we listen to Mitch McConnell say that Medicaid and other public assistance programs need to be cut to manage the national deficit, we talk about the alternatives if the program is cut and we are left responsible for our girl. The only thing we have decided we could do if we had to bring her to live with us is keep her drugged right up to the level of vegetative state—she’s simply too dangerous otherwise. On the days we are brave enough to look at the entirety of our situation, we are aware that we could come to a time when we would be financially responsible for both my dad’s medical needs and María’s life needs. We have had the conversation more than once. We have never found a way to make the pieces all work financially. We are fortunate to be able to save money every month. The cost of living in Alabama is certainly lower than in Florida. I continue to work and retirement is not on the horizon any time soon for me. And we choose not dwell on the grim possibilities we face. I am too grateful for today.
But I will tell you as honestly and clearly as I can: there are some things terribly wrong in this country. I recently watched a program where a bottle of wine was easily auctioned for $500,000. Five. Hundred. Thousand. Dollars. A painting was sold for $90 million dollars in another auction that took less than 5 minutes to close. Yet an old man who I love beyond words may find himself without healthcare insurance by the end of next year.
Only once since I turned 21 have I not worked–and that was for 3 months after we adopted María and I quit my FedEx job to tend to her. I refuse to describe myself in some kind of false binary category—socialist or capitalist, Democrat or Republican. What I want is something that works for the largest number of people possible in a way that respects everyone’sdignity. I understand we need a shared sense of responsibility and that we must demonstrate a willingness to keep managing the tension between having a social safety net and taking personal responsibility for our lives. I’m not interested in blaming. I want solutions. And I know as a nation we are capable of figuring out a way forward with health care and some of the other large challenges we have ahead.
In the meantime, I ask as many of you as are willing to copy and paste the comment that goes with this post into your Facebook page. People like Sherod and I, and my dad, and my daughter, are the faces of Obamacare.