In Your Opinion: My Health, And A Reminder That Healthcare Should Be An American Value

By U.S. Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman.

My core belief in equality is one of the reasons I first decided to run for Congress. My belief that we all deserve a fair shot extends to every corner of the things that shape our lives, including the notion that your income, social status, occupation or lack of an occupation should not determine your access to quality, affordable healthcare. The fight for that access recently became a deeply personal commitment when my doctor found a small, irregular spot on one of my lungs during a routine checkup. After explaining my family history, my doctor agreed with my request for a PET scan, and because I believe in God, my family and I came together in fervent prayer even before we knew the outcome.

Prayer changes things, and with a brief procedure to remove what turned out to be a small tumor, I’m blessed to be cancer-free today. I have begun a treatment plan to ensure that the cancer does not return. Still, like the 1.7 million Americans diagnosed with cancer each year, I was struck by the sudden sense of my own mortality — questioning how much longer I’d be able to perform routine and mundane daily tasks rather than dreading them, wondering how many more times I’d play with my youngest granddaughter, or spend time with my husband.

Early detection played an essential role in my outcome. Without the ability to see my doctor to find that tumor in the first place, without the coverage to quickly schedule a major medical procedure, without the ability to afford the drugs that will make sure that cancer doesn’t return, I wouldn’t be able to share this story. My own advocacy for further testing was equally critical, and while my doctors were responsive to my concerns, many Black women don’t have the same experience and it contributes to the disparities we face.

It’s repeated over and over that a routine check-up can save your life. It’s been noted in dozens of reports that black women are frequently dismissed, under-screened or inadvertently and negatively stereotyped when we seek care. I’m now a testament to both.

12.2 Percent of Americans don’t have health insurance. They’re not going in for a checkup. They’re not able to pay the thousands of dollars surgical procedures cost. They can’t afford any medical treatment, let alone the best or most advanced. For them, a toothache could lead to a brain infection. The lapse in a vital medication that’s too expensive could lead to a relapse or worse. A spot on a lung could go unseen long enough for it to be too late. And if Serena William’s post-partum story is any indication, once you’re in front of a doctor, self-advocacy is vital — especially for Black women.

We have to stop pretending these things aren’t problems.

This episode in my life has fortified my resolve to make sure that all Americans have access to world class health care — and in our country, for the time being, that means health insurance. This shouldn’t be a Democratic or Republican platform. It should be an American principle that crosses party lines.

I came to Congress intent on protecting the Affordable Care Act not because it was perfect, but because I believe America is better off when more of us have health insurance. My recent experience makes it clear to me that Congress must prioritize keeping our constituents healthy, not treating them once they’re ill. Keeping them healthy means policies that ensure premiums and co-pays are reasonable enough to incentivize preventive care while healthy, rather than treatment because costs are so high people avoid seeing a doctor until they are too sick to do otherwise. Congress should be stepping up to lead across a host of issues right now, but this is among the most important.

Americans deserve a health care system in which those who need help are not forced to choose between life-saving healthcare and avoiding bankruptcy. They deserve to be saved if there’s a drug or treatment on the market that can do so, not if their health insurance plan covers it. Healthcare should not be denied to children, the elderly or those with preexisting illness. Government and business should be as diligent in assisting individuals to afford quality healthcare as they are in partnering to find cures for disease. Doctors shouldn’t put so much weight on race or socioeconomic status that they miss the chance to save a life with the correct diagnosis — but until they do better, we should have the tools and knowledge to advocate for our own care.
These are the values that I first came here to support, and these are the values that my diagnosis has pushed me to champion to colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Because for every story that ends like mine, there are others that will end tragically until we work together to fix healthcare for everyone.


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