Dear Senator,

I am one of many of your constituents writing and calling your office concerning the Senate health care bill. While relieved that the vote has been delayed, I am fearful for the future. So, I write.

You know the numbers. You know how many New Mexicans are covered by Medicaid, how many live with pre-existing conditions and how many need or may need treatment for addiction. You know how pervasive poverty is in our state and how not only access to care, but access to affordable care can make the difference between life and death for so many of us.

You’ve also, I’m sure, met with representatives from our hospitals and our large insurers. You’ve met with employers and with individuals who are concerned about their rising premiums. I know you meet with patient advocacy groups regularly who tell you their stories of living with disease, the personal and financial costs of the disease, and they tell you to please support research and access to care. I’m sure your staff have many leave behind packets with personal stories and statistics. This letter doesn’t re-state all that you have heard and read, but instead poses a question.

As an American, I can’t help but wonder what the philosophy is behind this draft bill, and why instead of working to repair the Affordable Care Act, the GOP is looking to completely replace it. We’re all reading about a possible future should this bill pass in which millions lose access to affordable healthcare across the nation including those on Medicaid who need it desperately.  “Healthcare is a business” and “this isn’t an emotional decision” are position statements that are beyond belief to me when we project how many of our fellow Americans may die as a result of this bill.  How is this at all even discussed as an option in a country that values prosperity and freedom?  In my mind, the question arises, do I have a right to health care? I’ve read conflicting arguments on this question. Many believe it is a basic human right, and others see healthcare as a business and believe that if citizens have a right to healthcare it is impeding the freedom of others, such as those that would be forced to provide it. As old-fashioned and patriotic as it may sound, one of the perks of being an American is, well, liberty or freedom. The Declaration of Independence states, “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Believe it or not, I didn’t choose to be among the millions with chronic illness. If I did, my story would read more like this.

“I remember when I decided to be diagnosed with my first chronic illness. At 14 years old, I thought, I would love a disease that allowed me to first, mooch off the government and second, provide me with social and economic limitations. Why would I choose to be diagnosed with a disease with such financial and emotional costs? Oh, to be a more grateful citizen than your average healthy person, I suppose. Oh, and to gratefully mooch off the government. If at all possible, I would use my disease to not work so that I could be lazy. After all, laziness is why I chose to have all these devastating illnesses. Totally worth it.  Right?  Still waiting all the great benefits of disease to kick in, but I’m sure they will eventually.”

Of course, I didn’t choose to be diagnosed. I also didn’t choose the illnesses that I was diagnosed with as an adult. Like all those living with chronic illness, we were dealt a shock. Why do we deserve to pay so much more in our struggle to be healthy, if we were never given the choice? I am so fortunate because I have insurance through my employer, but there was a time when I moved home and helped with the family businesses. I was only able to be with my family because my husband and I could get covered by Medicaid. Then, I found employment with health benefits. I’ll never take for granted that Medicaid was there when we needed it, and it kept me healthy.

I didn’t intend to be an expensive patient, but I do need comprehensive and affordable health insurance. The essential benefits packages that we fought so hard for just a few years ago mean that I won’t be thrown into poverty just to pay for my medical care, and for all those who are yet to be diagnosed, it won’t mean bankruptcy. It means we don’t have to choose between food and our prescriptions.

Here’s the deal. If I don’t have access to my prescriptions, I can’t work. If I can’t work, I won’t have access to my prescriptions. My prescriptions, and my many specialists, keep me able to do things like drive a car and hold employment. I can then pay taxes, and contribute to our economy. As simplistic (and slightly sarcastic) as that may sound, it’s the truth.

What would happen if my provider cut essential benefits like prescription drug benefits or coverage for my specialists?  Even with a pretty good paying job,  I couldn’t afford the out of pocket cost.   I would have to just stay home in pain, suffering from the complications of my illnesses that would eventually take my independence before taking my life? Basically, without affordable insurance, I couldn’t work. I would have to use the emergency room on a regular basis just to get medication and then I couldn’t pay for the hospital visits. Then, the complications of my disease would worsen. I would then be trapped by my pre-existing conditions.

I have already written that I am fortunate to be covered. If you met me and shook my hand you wouldn’t be able to tell that I live with chronic illnesses. I am not that constituent that will tell you that I would likely lose my insurance should this bill (or something like it) pass, and I know many have shared that story with you.  But of course, even being among the healthy and insured, I have pre-existing conditions and the protections I have seen for pre-existing conditions in this bill are anything but.

What I can tell you is that health care is freedom. So, do I not have a right to affordable health care so that I can work and contribute? Do I not have a right to manage my illnesses with medications, necessary tests and guidance from qualified doctors so that I can live and pursue happiness? Do we not all have that right?

Lawren McConnell

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