Labor Voices: Keep Obamacare, it saves lives

Elaine Pope

For more than 10 years, my job as a homecare provider has been to take care of people — older people and people with disabilities — who need help taking care of themselves. In 2013, because I didn’t have health insurance, I became one of those people.

The first sign that I was sick came when I kept getting tired. While home health care is certainly a demanding job, this was different. I was coming home completely spent.

It turns out that I was tired for a reason — I had fibroids and I needed treatment. I went to the doctor, but because I didn’t have insurance, they told me that I needed “a whole lot of money to have the surgery,” and that my best bet was to wait until Obamacare kicked in. But the delay came with a warning that my lack of treatment would make me sicker, and it did.

Then in 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors told me that it was stage 1, and the remedy was surgery, followed by two weeks of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation treatment.

Thankfully, once I was able to finally get insurance through the Affordable Care Act, which extended Medicaid to 650,000 people and provided coverage to 300,000 others in Michigan, I received the treatment that I needed. Without it, I’d probably be dead.

But the insurance that allowed me to go to the doctor and get treatment for a life-threatening illness would have been taken away from me and millions of others like me and my clients — namely working people earning low to moderate incomes, older people, and people with disabilities. Until last week, Republicans in Congress and President Trump were pushing a controversial plan to replace the Affordable Care Act that would potentially take insurance away from 24 million people across the country, making it harder for them to go to the doctor even when they are sick.

On top of that, those who are the sickest would have to pay a lot more. Their plan called for people with preexisting conditions who had to go without insurance coverage to either pay a higher rate or be denied altogether. With this change, I would be back to square one because it could price me out of being able to see a doctor, again.

Health care is something that should unite all of us — we all need to be healthy to lead good lives and all of us should be able to go the doctor when we are sick. But this approach divides us and puts lives at risk.

It’s so important that we have the Affordable Care Act, not just to go to the hospital in an emergency, but to be able to go to the doctor on a regular basis, just as I’m able to now. My health is looking much better so far. I’m feeling good and I go back for my check-up later this year. But I don’t know what the future holds.

It would be a shame if they get rid of the Affordable Care Act because I know there must be more women out there like me and the idea of being sick and not being able to see a doctor is scary. That’s why I will be contacting members of Congress to share my story so that we can continue to work on improving health care for everyone. I hope others in Michigan will join me in raising their voices, too, because their lives may depend on it.

Elaine Pope is a homecare worker in Detroit.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.