Thursday, September 3, 2009

Secretary Sebelius Says Unequivocal Yes to Public Option

Though she said this at the Portland meeting, as opposed to the Bangor round table where I was a panel member, MPBN has the story. The elegant and articulate former Kansas governor shores up the public option in the first moments of the MPBN piece.

Here's more or less what I said to the Secretary and the 60 or so people gathered at Orono this afternoon:

Thank you Madame Secretary coming to Maine. Thanks to all the organizers who made this meeting possible. I am honored to have this opportunity.

First, I have to say that I am one of the lucky ones. I am healthy. I hope to be completing my sixth triathlon next Sunday morning. Two hundred or so of us lucky, healthy Mainers will swim a half-mile, cycle 26 miles and run 6.6 miles for the fun of doing it, because we can. Millions are not so lucky and way too many have lost, not only their health, but homes, businesses and ways of life because of our country's health care chaos--I cannot bring myself to call it a system.

I am lucky to have had in my mid-20s a type of cancer, cervical cancer, with a high cure rate, one of the highest. I am lucky to have lived nearly 25 years without a recurrence. Because I, like every cancer survivor, worry about recurrence, the fact that I could never, ever have a break in my health insurance coverage became an intrinsic part of my life. Access to health insurance determined what work I did, where I lived, my marriageability, and was put at risk by my divorce. Nevertheless, I am lucky to have had an education that, all told, enabled me to string together a life that included health insurance. As a teacher I know many are not so fortunate.

When I left British Airways, my job right out of college, and came home to Maine during my cancer mini-drama, I used COBRA. Even in the 1980s it cost thousands of dollars a year, but there was no way I could cancel it. I found work as a social editor, then reporter, for Rockland's newspaper and the jobs included insurance. Finally, I put my degree to work and taught English and dance for 12 years in a Lincoln County high school. I married, had a child in my 40s and left my teaching job, secure that my husband would support us. When I found I had no choice but to leave the marriage, my position as the single employee in my husband's lobstering venture evaporated.

Since 2003 I have patched coverage together through work and catastrophic policies with out-of-reach deductibles. It has not been pretty. More than once, by the time I got billed for a visit, test or procedure, the policy that originally was in force had been replaced by another. When I called the insurance companies, you would have though I had asked for ancient Sumerian tablets as I asked to reconstruct previous policies. Many times I have simply paid the bill rather than wrangle with the insurance companies or damage my credit rating further.

Now, because of the economy and my expensive teaching experience, I work as a long term substitute outside of contract for a school that has agreed
to pay my health insurance costs. I'm both lucky and grateful. Tens of thousands of others have not had my good fortune.

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