Diabetes and the Health-Care Debate: How Much Is One Life Worth?

I’ve been watching the health-care debate for the past 20 years, living the entire time with an expensive chronic condition that has kept me one major life event away from being shut out of our system. I have, on a number of occasions, written about health-care reform and its impact on our diabetes community. I have heard from people who benefited greatly from the ACA (the Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare”), and from people who have seen costs skyrocket because of it. I have spoken with friends in Massachusetts, which had previously instituted its own state-run program (upon which the ACA was modeled, though the national program was never appropriately funded or revamped in any kind of good-faith, bipartisan way). Most of them have had great things to say about MassHealth, but it’s still not perfect.

And now, a tide of conservative nationalism is sweeping the U.S. and Europe. I find it terrifying personally, but let’s just park that debate for the moment. Because whatever you feel politically about the current state of things, sentiment toward health care is wrapped up in our political environment. And that sentiment is not good. It is resentful of the ACA, it is resentful of an approach toward health care it often labels as “socialist.” It resents that “us healthy people have to pay for those sick people.” It is divisive, and built on a foundation of individualism over any kind of common good. But these are all abstract terms for people who don’t face a serious, potentially life-ENDING disease every day of their lives. It’s not abstract for us.

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What I’m realizing this morning, after reading yet another article about the plans to abolish Obamacare, is what an emotional toll this debate has had, and continues to have, on me. When people talk delightedly about doing away with health-care reform, they are talking about doing away with access for people LIKE ME. The financial figures are mere data points, but my life and health are very personal. I have never had to use the ACA — thankfully my insurance is through my wife’s work, and it’s good coverage. I am deeply thankful for that, but I took great comfort in knowing that should something happen to eliminate that insurance, I had an option other than simply “rationing” my insulin and watching my health fall apart.

Now, many might point out that the ACA plans were increasing in their costs, and the coverage was being scaled back due to the fact that too many people like me were using it (that is, people with a medical condition), and not enough people like my wife were using it (young, healthy people). I get that. The ACA needed work. What really saddens me is that it so often feels like the real lives of those of us who NEED access to health care, and whose lives might potentially be devastated by losing access, are mere afterthoughts. It often feels like our lives simply aren’t worth a little extra tax money every April. It often feels like people would rather have an extra $400 for a flat screen TV than use that money to help keep ALL of us healthy. That is what hurts, and it hurts deeply.

In the end, I’m not sure what the practical steps forward are for health-care reform in our country. But before practical steps can even be considered, a shift has to happen in our attitude. We need to agree that OUR LIVES — that is, us “sick” people that everyone resents paying a little extra tax money for — are actually WORTH helping, and actually worth putting some resources into. Of course, anyone reading this will undoubtedly agree that our lives are worth the effort. What we need are the voices of allies. So if you think this blog entry might help someone in YOUR life understand what our experience of health care is, share it. If you think health-care access is important, call your representatives and let them know that whatever political ideology they might have, denying access for us is unacceptable in the richest country this world has EVER seen. Speak up, because people need to understand. This isn’t some abstract debate for us. The consequences are real, and losing access to quality health care is devastating. Tell the world that our lives are worth the effort, and worth the financial cost.

The FDA has expanded the approved use of a Type 2 diabetes drug to include reducing the risk of cardiovascular death. Bookmark DiabetesSelfManagement.com and tune in tomorrow to learn more.