How Texas Health Care Failed Israel, A Man With Terminal Cancer Who’d Worked His Whole Life

CREDIT: Miriam Mora

Israel Hilton after surgery to remove cancer in his brain. Doctors were not able to get all of it.

Israel Hilton is one of those guys with an enthusiasm that is as infectious as it is unexpected.

Nobody could blame Israel, 49, if he were surly. He’s worked his entire life in retail customer service, fielding complaints from shoppers who took out their frustration on him. He was underpaid and couldn’t get health insurance through his job, but he still excelled, once winning an “Employee of the Year” award from K-Mart. He never complained, even where a lesser man would have.

In 2013, Israel began to develop severe headaches. They soon turned into seizures. He went to the emergency room, where the neurologist diagnosed him with depression and sent him home. The seizures stopped for a while, but soon came back with a vengeance.

“Maybe if I did have some type of health insurance, I would’ve been able to afford to get a second opinion,” Israel said. But he was caught in a doughnut hole. The jobs he’d worked didn’t offer insurance and he was too poor to buy it on his own. Last year, his income was $13,334, but that was nearly $10,000 higher than Texas’s cutoff to qualify for Medicaid. So he went without.

After six months he finally went back to the hospital where he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. The doctors removed as much as they could, but it was too late to get it all. “So right now they’re just trying to work as far as extending the length of…time that I’ll have,” Israel told ThinkProgress, choking back tears. Doctors estimate Israel has 18 months to live. If he had been able to get a second opinion earlier, “Maybe the tumor would’ve been smaller, might have been able to treat it better,” his sister, Miriam Mora, added.

Watch Israel’s story:

Click here to watch the video with Spanish subtitles.

Despite having the largest uninsured population in the nation, Texas is one of two dozen states that has rejected federal funding to expand its Medicaid rolls. As a result, Israel can’t get health insurance. Though he is fortunate to be receiving indigent care from a private Texas hospital, without insurance he can’t get treatment for other health problems, including diabetes.

A new organization, Texas Left Me Out, has been launched in the state to collect stories from some of the 1.5 million Texans who would benefit if Gov. Rick Perry (R) and his legislative allies decided to accept the Medicaid expansion.

Video by Andrew Satter.