Thursday, June 28, 2012

I am a pre-existing condition

I consider myself a great many things: a runner, an entrepreneur, and a storyteller are among just a few. But unfortunately, over the last few weeks my experience trying to obtain health insurance has forced me to see myself as something else: a pre-existing condition.

I left my job at USC, excited to join a great start-up working to create financial access for millions of poor entrepreneurs in India and elsewhere. The organization is visionary, but they’re also young and thus unable to offer health insurance for their employees at the moment. In my excitement to do something I am passionate about, I never imagined the struggles I would have to obtain health insurance on my own.

The cost is exorbitant. Typically $170 a month will get you a modest plan. Two to three visits a year to the doctor for a $40 co pay. I pay any costs beyond that, out of pocket, until I reach my $3,500 yearly deductible. After I have paid $3,500 out of pocket, the insurance company pays 70% and I pay 30%. So something like a broken leg, can easily set you back $7,000, and that’s with insurance!!!

But if like me, you have asthma, things are even worse. Many are denied health coverage because of their pre-existing condition. Me, I underwent multiple humiliating interviews that made me feel like a second class citizen before a top carrier agreed to carry me, for a $50 a month surcharge.

The letter I got from one health insurance company

I am a runner, having competed in multiple half marathons and marathons. I have controlled my asthma since 1995, and never once had an asthma attack. But these facts matter not. At the end of the day, we have a healthcare system built less on cura personalis (care of the entire person) and more on bottom line. Insurance companies see me as two things: a pre-existing condition and $$$.

The Supreme Courts decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act is a landmark moment for our nation. But it is also an intimately personal victory for me, and the countless individuals like me who don’t think asthma or some other controllable condition should in any way be able to influence or limit their desire to be entrepreneurs.

I try to avoid politics on this blog, but this decision feels more than political to me, it has become deeply and agonizingly personal. The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare as some call it, has countless stories and human faces beyond the thousands of pages and heated political debate. I am one of those faces, one of countless stories affected by this decision.

America, at long last, moves slowly toward a standard of care seen in every other industrialized nation in the world. And come 2014, health insurance companies will be forced to see me as anything BUT a pre-existing condition. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The light is always better than the darkness

There is a story circulating around TV, radio, and the internet about the incredible cruelty four middle school boys showed to an elderly bus monitor this week in Greece, New York. Moments after I brought myself to watch clips of this saddening video, an old professor emailed me a story he had received from Jesuit Volunteer Corps. He simply said: 

"I don't know why, but somehow knowing that 21 year old college graduates like Brittney are spending a year thinking and praying about experiences like this makes me feel better about where we are going as a society."

There is a story of heartless and immature cruelty that is the talk around so many tables and water coolers this week. But reading the reflection that was shared with me yesterday, I was profoundly moved and like my professor, feeling better about the direction our society is heading. I, like many others, have also been inspired to see people all around the world giving small sums of their own money to a fund to help this bus monitor go on a vacation and retire. Last I checked, the fund reached $550,000. The light, it seems, is still better than the darkness, even when it's seems we are surrounded by the night.

At the end of the day, we must not forget, the light is also so much stronger than the darkness in this world, if only we choose to let it be. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did. It truly was my redemption song yesterday.

Redemption Song

A reflection from Brittney Cavaliere

A second-year JV working in Washington, D.C., at Joseph's House, which provides hospice care for people who are homeless.

A dear resident lost his battle with liver cancer earlier this year. My heart ached for him, wishing he was sitting on the front porch to say, "Good morning, Shorty," or in his room listening to Bob Marley.

Watching him die was one of the most challenging experiences, but also a very rewarding one. It was a time when I felt God's presence so clearly, when I was able to bear witness to the beauty that rises out of death.

I spent most of that morning by his bedside, writing him a little thank-you note. There'd been a major change in him from the day before. His breathing slowed, there was no longer moaning or wincing, he was free of pain. As he slept, I watched, wrapped up in the mystery that surrounded me.

In the afternoon, our nurse came to find me. "He is nearing the end. If it's important to you, and I know it is, you should go to his room."

As I entered, I knelt at the foot of the bed and placed my hand on his foot. That's where I remained until he took his last breath. I stayed there for many moments after. He died peacefully, just as I'd prayed all week.  
Three friends and co-workers entered the room soon after. Balaji placed one hand on my friend's leg and took my hand in the other. Tina and Sam joined us in our chain as we mourned together, grieved together, remembered together.

We began the Joseph's House rituals and lit a candle by the bed. Someone turned on his stereo. Bob Marley's Redemption Song played. The word "freedom" kept repeating itself.

That was when I knew he was free. He left this life for one of true joy, singing his redemption song.

The world lost a love-filled man, a teacher, a passionate human being, but we gained an angel. For that, I am eternally grateful.