Guest Opinion: Support access to affordable health care

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I am fortunate to have health insurance, although I spent many years without it. As an undergraduate student in the early 2000s, I suffered my first major health scare. I was diagnosed with a liver disorder that I inherited from my family. It had been raging in my body since birth but went undetected. No insurance providers would give me the time of day, none covered pre-existing conditions, and many quoted very expensive deductibles with little coverage.

I set up monthly appointments with a liver specialist. I had blood drawn regularly to monitor my liver functions. I had a liver biopsy and ultrasound to test for liver scarring and tumors. I dropped to part-time enrollment at school and worked more hours to try to keep up with medical bills. I quickly fell behind and went into substantial debt. The liver specialist prescribed a monthly medication to help my liver. The bad news was I could not afford it.

After emptying my bank account and selling the majority of my possessions, I mustered up enough for only one month’s supply of medication. Most of my possessions were old foreign films and alternative-rock compact discs. I suppose my movies and music were somewhat of a specialized and acquired taste. After classes and shifts at work, I spent most nights researching need-based programs for medicine. I was able to get a discount on my medication following many calls and letters.

Thankfully, my liver is fine now. I no longer require medicine, and I recently paid off the medical debt I  had accumulated. I have been thinking about that time in my life a lot lately. When Obama signed the Affordable Care Act, I felt hope for people with similar experiences to mine. If the law is repealed, then it ensures people with pre-existing conditions will have high-deductibles, little coverage, and overwhelming medical debt. If that is insurance, then who needs it?

I am now a faculty member in higher education. I work with undergraduate and graduate students on a daily basis and feel continually inspired by their aspirations and hard work. I feel an urgent moral responsibility to ensure these students do not struggle for health care. To feel the promise of your youth, college education, and future career slip away is a horrible thing. I am lucky my liver held out.  Unfortunately, without quality medical care, others may not be so lucky. I strongly encourage everyone to contact their local congressman and senator. Let them know it is necessary to support access to affordable health care for everyone.

— Shawn Datchuk

Shawn Datchuk is a UI assistant professor in the College of Education.