She’s a 63-year-old who’s convinced the federal government will let her die if her breast cancer comes back after “Obamacare” goes into effect.
He’s a professional who worries the nest egg he’s carefully built earning a six-figure salary will be wiped out by his chronic illness unless health-care reform continues forward.
These strangers have one thing in common: Fear.
One fears nothing will change when it comes to our nation’s health-care system, leaving him vulnerable to high medical costs. The other is scared everything will change, with tragic consequences for her and future generations.
The highly personal, extremely politicized topic of health care is at the top of the mind for the six local residents who recently agreed to talk about their thoughts, experiences and feelings on the topic.
And they’re not alone.
In a Bliss Institute/Beacon Journal poll of Akron-Canton area adults this summer, participants named health care as the topic most likely to generate heated discussion. Nearly three-fourths of the 600 people recently polled from the five-county Akron-Canton area identified the topic as the biggest hot-button issue.
The six local residents who agreed to share their personal stories were granted anonymity so they could talk openly. For some participants, even their own family members don’t know the medical challenges they’re facing.
Illness threatens finances
A professional who lives in Summit County has visions of retiring in the South with his wife when he turns 60.
The couple have carefully saved, putting aside 25 percent of their earnings from his $700,000 annual salary.
But if the federal health reform law dubbed Obamacare goes away, the man in his early 50s fears his retirement dreams will vanish as well.
Last year, he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, an incurable neurological disease that can cause unpredictable symptoms ranging from numbness and tingling to vision problems and paralysis.
If he can’t work anymore or wants to retire before he’s eligible for Medicare at age 65, he said, he’ll need the protection of health-care reform to give him access to insurance despite his pre-existing condition. Without coverage, he estimates he’d be forced to pay $60,000 or more per year for his medical care, including $30,000 for one medication to slow the progression of his disease.
“As Romney threatens to appeal Obamacare, if there’s no kind of replacement that has provisions for pre-existing conditions or something that would enable me, without a job, to at least pay for insurance myself at a reasonable rate, I have no choice — I have to continue working,” he said. “With Obamacare, I at least know it would benefit me in the sense that it would give me an option of retiring, providing I pay for the coverage.”
Before his diagnosis, health insurance wasn’t a major issue for him when he went to the polls. Now, the Republican said, the issue is swinging his vote to Obama.
“I don’t think Obama has been particularly effective,” he said. “I do think the economy is a major, major issue. But I’d rather have Obama with a slowly progressing economy but with health care than the unknown of Romney with no indication whatsoever what he’d do about health care. To the extent he is a businessman and could potentially provide a better economic recovery, I’d rather take the risk on the Obama side.”
He said he gets frustrated when he hears other middle-class people complain about the mandate under Obamacare requiring most Americans to get health coverage.
“The reality is when they get hit with an illness, if it causes them to lose their job, there goes the insurance,” he said. “On average, they’ve got very little saved up for retirement. It’s going to vaporize, basically, their money. … There’s people a hell of a lot less well off then I am. How are they going to afford it?”
Survivor fears Obamacare
A 63-year-old from an Akron suburb is afraid about her fate if health-care reform continues forward under President Barack Obama.
The divorced grandmother who works for a nonprofit organization beat breast cancer years ago. But now she worries about what will happen if her cancer returns after she’s covered by the federal Medicare program in a couple years unless federal health reform is repealed.
“They’ll say, ‘She’s not productive,’ so they’ll let a hospital administrator, not a doctor, decide if they’ll take care of me or not,” she said. “…I don’t think I’m going to be taken care of.”
The Republican said she believes the public is not getting the full story about Obamacare.
Rather than trusting newspapers or most network news for information, she relies on Fox News to provide both sides of the story. Other news media, she said, are “all pro-Democrat.”
“I think there’s been a lot of lack of truthfulness through the whole Obamacare,” she said. “They’ve taken millions out of Medicare — which I have paid into, I worked all my life — to pay for Obamacare.”
She said she doesn’t trust Obama or other Democratic leaders who support the federal health reform law.
“I don’t trust him, I don’t trust Nancy Pelosi and I don’t trust Harry Reid,” she said. “I think they’re basically out for themselves. And they don’t have to worry, because they’re not under Obamacare. …If it’s such a great thing, why aren’t they taking it?”
The woman, who is Lutheran, said it’s also not the government’s place to force employers — particularly religious organizations — to cover something that goes against their beliefs.
“I have an issue because they want to tell the Catholic church or anybody else: ‘This is what you have to pay for. You have to pay for abortion,’ ” she said. “And I’m not Catholic, but that’s crossing the line.
“Let me explain this to you: If a woman has an abortion, it’s up to that person. If you have the abortion, you pay for it because you’re going to have to answer to the Lord.”
Next month, she said, she plans to vote for Mitt Romney, with the faith that he will “repeal and replace” Obamacare as promised after elected.
Doctor pans ‘scare tactics’
A 60-year-old primary-care doctor from Akron is sick of what she considers scare tactics from opponents of the federal health reform law.
“The people who propagandize this stuff should just burn in hell,” she said. “The scare tactics make me crazy.”
The biggest misconception, she said, is that Medicare services for seniors will be cut.
“People don’t understand that it’s not going to be a cutback on services,” she said. “…It’s trying to make the dollars utilized more appropriately.”
The reform law, for example, attempts to reduce Medicare costs by eliminating unnecessary, duplicated tests, she said.
The Democrat and “lefty,” as she calls herself, works for Veterans Affairs. In a previous role, she cared primarily for uninsured patients.
“I think the better off have to also be responsible for the less well off,” she said. “That doesn’t mean that I think we should be supporting drug addicts or paying for them to buy their heroin. But I do think there are a lot of people who really have trouble functioning and need some help, be it through mental or physical illness.”
Throughout her career, she’s seen patients who chose not to buy health insurance face financial ruin when a medical crisis happens. That’s part of the reason she supports the controversial provision in the federal health reform law that requires almost all Americans to get health coverage.
“They just think because they’re healthy, they’ll be fine,” she said. “But all they need is one event and they’re in bankruptcy court. ”
The doctor doesn’t share her political views toward health care with colleagues.
“I don’t really talk about it with other physicians,” she said. “I don’t really like getting in political arguments, so I tend to avoid discussing my political views with people who think differently than me. Because everything is so polarized now, it’s hard to do it. It becomes so charged.”
Uninsured relies on charity
For one Summit County resident, health insurance wasn’t a top priority — until she had health problems.
When the 34-year-old single woman quit graduate school to help a relative in a small house-cleaning business six years ago, she couldn’t afford the $400 or so per month she said it would have cost to buy her own health coverage.
She was young and healthy, so she simply put off going to the doctor.
But when she noticed she had a suspicious-looking mole several years ago, her mother encouraged her to get it checked out, regardless of the cost.
The doctor recommended she undergo a biopsy — something she feared she couldn’t afford on the $12,000 she earns in the typical year. So the doctor referred her to the Access to Care program.
The program pairs qualifying uninsured Summit County residents with area doctors and hospitals who agree to provide their care for free.
Access to Care helped the women get a free biopsy and the necessary follow-up care she needed when the test confirmed she had skin cancer. A few months later, she also needed laparoscopic surgery on her knee after injuring it playing soccer with friends.
Without the program, “I probably would have ruined my credit,” she said. “…I would have been limping around with an injured knee with skin cancer growing on my face.”
She admits she hasn’t been following the political debate about health-care reform.
“I’ve never not voted in a major election,” said the independent voter, who tends to support Democratic candidates. “…I just don’t know how much it matters sometimes. I’m a little disheartened.”
But she said she does support the concept of expanding government help to more uninsured Americans.
“I think that it’s socially responsible,” she said. “I think it’s a measure of our community’s success by how we take care of people who are sick. It’s our responsibility as a government, as a country, to take care of our individuals. Believe me, there’s enough money out there. It just has to be switched around. It’s disgraceful, the way people suffer because of the lack of insurance or the lack of money or both.”
Medicaid recipient angered
When a 42-year-old single mom recently bought glasses for her teenage daughter, she ended up seeing red.
The woman next to her repeatedly made derogatory comments about people who receive government assistance. Rather than ending the conversation, the store clerk agreed.
“No one should be on welfare,” she heard the stranger say. “I’m tired of taking care of people on welfare.”
“It just went on and on and on,” the Akron mother recalled. “I just got really upset.
“… The perception she gave was: ‘They’re lazy. Everyone who’s on public assistance is lazy.’ ”
The mom and her daughter both rely on Medicaid for health coverage.
The Akron resident said she was humiliated when she stood in line downtown at Job and Family Services two years ago to apply for help.
She didn’t feel she had any other choice.
She lost her job earning more than $20 an hour as an administrative assistant when the area company where she worked for eight years downsized in 2010.
After paying her mortgage and other expenses from the savings she had built, she couldn’t afford to continue her previous coverage through COBRA.
“That’s basically your unemployment check,” she said.
Despite working since she was a teen and earning two college degrees, she couldn’t find anything except temp jobs paying half the amount she previously earned.
Her daughter qualified for Medicaid immediately, because the income requirements are more generous for children. The mom initially was denied — until she reapplied 1½ years later when she developed health problems that required expensive tests. At that point, most of her savings were gone, and her unemployment had run out.
Without Medicaid coverage, “I would have had to put it off,” she said.
When she heard a stranger criticizing people who get government help, she was livid. But she didn’t say a word.
“I don’t like confrontation in a public place,” she said.
The woman now is working at a job that she hopes will become permanent in a couple months. If that happens, she’ll get health insurance again for herself and her daughter. Otherwise, she’ll need to reapply to continue Medicaid coverage at the end of the year.
The Democrat supports provisions in the federal health reform law that expand Medicaid eligibility to more low-income adults. She plans to vote for Obama.
Unsure who has answers
A 60-year-old Summit County resident isn’t sure either political party has a cure for the rising health-care costs she and her husband have been facing in recent years.
“I just don’t see it changing,” she said. “I don’t see the answer. I just think it’s not going to change.
“…This stupid government can’t agree.”
Her husband has his own small business, which has struggled since the economic downturn several years ago.
At the same time, the cost for the couple’s health insurance has increased from about $560 per month in 2008 to $1,106 per month this year, even without any drug coverage. Next year, they’ll be paying $1,325 per month for a plan with a $6,000 deductible.
Her 62-year-old husband has been working as a referee for a youth sport to help earn extra money to cover the couple’s rising health-care costs. Last year, about half the couple’s income was spent on health-care premiums and funding a health savings account.
She said they can’t shop around for better rates. Other insurers won’t offer them coverage because he had blocked arteries that required stents several years ago.
Republicans aren’t offering any clear solutions, she said, and Democrats aren’t saying how they’ll pay for their health system overall.
The independent still hasn’t decided which presidential candidate will get her vote in November, but she’s leaning toward Romney.
As for impact of the Affordable Care Act, she said: “I don’t have a clue what they’re talking about. I don’t know if it’s going to help us or hinder us.
“Is Obama going to take care of people like us?” she asked. “Is this plan going to help us? I don’t see it, because no one seems to have any answers to that.”
Which candidate do you think has the best approach to healthcare and why do you think so?
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or email@example.com. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.