As the deadline approached for Congress to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government funded, Republicans refused to strike a deal unless it defunded or delayed Obamacare. Now, a week later, GOP lawmakers still seem unwilling to compromise unless they are able to dismantle some of the health reform law. One Oklahoma resident wants them to understand the human impact of that political position.
On the eve of the looming government shutdown, 26-year-old Kendall Brown published an open letter to the lawmakers who wanted to delay Obamacare for one year before agreeing to pass a funding bill. Brown didn’t mince words. “I am dying, because of the political games you are playing right now,” her op-ed began.
The Oklahoma resident explained that she was born with Crohn’s Disease, an inflammatory bowel disease that has no cure. When Brown was in college, she was removed from her mother’s health care coverage. Since her illness prevented her from being able to take a full course load, she couldn’t meet the credit requirements to qualify as a student to remain on the plan. During that time, she could only afford a limited student health plan, and she accumulated thousands of dollars in medical debt.
Once Obamacare allowed young adults to remain on their parents’ plans regardless of their academic status, Brown was able to return to her mother’s insurance. That provision of the health law was enacted at a crucial time — not long afterward, Brown needed to undergo emergency surgery to remove two feet of her intestine that had swollen shut. She wouldn’t have been able to afford the procedure otherwise.
But Brown is now 26 years old, and no longer qualifies for coverage under that Obamacare provision. Although she’s currently employed full-time at a nonprofit, the small organization can’t offer her any health benefits. She’s tried to apply for insurance plans on her own, but she’s been denied because of her pre-existing condition. She cannot currently afford the lifesaving treatment to manage her illness, a form of chemotherapy that costs $15,000 for each infusion. She is desperate to enroll in the health law’s new marketplaces so she can have the coverage she needs.
“I tell you this because I am tired of being reduced to a number, a statistic or, even worse, being described as a freeloader that wants to live off of the government health care teat,” Brown explains in her open letter. “I tell you this because if you defund Obamacare, or delay it even for one year, as you are debating today, then this will be my last letter to you. I will be dead before my 27th birthday.”
In an interview with ThinkProgress, Brown explained that she had been following the political drama in the lead-up to the current shutdown, and she decided to write her letter “out of incredible hurt and anger.”
“I don’t think that our elected officials are willfully terrible people — I think they are just so caught up in the game, so dead set on doing whatever it takes to get those votes next re-election season, that they forget that they’re talking about actual people,” the Oklahoma resident explained. “That’s what I wanted them to remember from reading my letter.”
Brown believes that Obamacare has already saved her life, because it allowed her to receive surgery while she was covered under her mother’s plan as a young adult. “Without that surgery I would have died a very painful death,” she noted. And with the law’s state-level insurance marketplaces opening to the public, Brown says her life will be saved all over again. She’ll be able to afford her medications and her regular chemotherapy treatments. She’ll hopefully be able to avoid another surgery.
But she’s still disappointed in her lawmakers. Congress ultimately failed to delay Obamacare’s marketplaces from opening for enrollment, but the federal government has still ground to a halt. And in Brown’s home state of Oklahoma, politicians are still resistant to health reform. Some Republicans continue to fight against the health law’s optional Medicaid expansion, which would help extend coverage to the state’s considerable uninsured population. Seventeen percent of Oklahoma adults don’t have health coverage.
“I am a very proud Oklahoman, and I plan to make my career and raise a family here, but I do not feel that our state elected officials are serving our best interests,” Brown told ThinkProgress, saying she’s “baffled and saddened” that her elected officials have dug in their heels against health reform.
“That, to me, is not in the spirit of being an Oklahoman,” she continued. “I grew up in a small western Oklahoma town, where you took sick neighbors casseroles and you offered to watch each other’s children. In short — you helped out your fellow man. And that’s what Obamacare is about, for me.”