In 15 years as a journalist, the most gut-wrenching, powerful story I’ve ever written happened this past January when I interviewed Athens resident Alex Andrews less than a week after he had been shot in the face through his kitchen window around 2 in the morning by an unknown assailant.
He remembered it all, in vivid detail.
He remembers getting up at around 2 that Thursday morning for a snack. He recalls cutting up vegetables. He remembers hearing a sound at the window and turning to see the figure of a man standing outside with a shotgun. He remembers thinking, “I’m about to get shot.”
And then he was. The glass crashed through. The plate of vegetables broke apart. The knife fell out of his hand. Andrews’ left arm went numb.
“The buckshot comes flying through and finds its way into nearly every part of my body from the knee up,” he said. “And I’m realizing I’m blind in my left eye, and I’m realizing I have a fractured skull. My jaw is dislocated. My face is immediately starting to swell. And I have two lacerated veins in my jugular. I started bleeding so intensely that within just a few blinks I realize my whole body is starting to ooze red.”
An ambulance arrived as Andrews began to feel severe cramps throughout his body, causing him to convulse and jerk around, “like Charlie horses all over my body.”
The EMTs got him on a stretcher and into an ambulance, cutting off his clothing to find out where the shot had punctured him. It had gone through his groin, his thighs, his belly, his arms, his chest, his neck, his head, “creating ribbons of destruction,” as he said, also cutting his left eye in half.
Two pieces of shot that tore into his jugular vein were the main reason Andrews ended up being taken by helicopter to St. Mary’s Hospital in Huntington, West Virginia.
Like I said, powerful. Gut-wrenching. And moreover, he still doesn’t know why this happened to him or who did it. He’s not a drug dealer. He wasn’t messing with anybody’s girlfriend or something like that. As far as he’s concerned, he was just living his life and then this happened.
Alex is a tattoo artist who owns his own shop here in Athens. It was his dream to open that shop – Thunder Bunny Tattoo Parlor. He worked his ass off to open it and he worked his ass off to build it up. American dream stuff, right?
But the American dream in 2017 doesn’t see all Americans as worthy of guaranteed lifetime health coverage. The American dream in 2017 prioritizes profits for shareholders over the American people – over everything really. In America, money is god and profits are the lifeblood of the deity.
So while Alex built his business and worked his ass off, he couldn’t afford health insurance. Medical professionals saved Alex’ life, but he was left with $500,000 worth of medical bills, and counting. Two provisions in the Affordable Care Act were responsible for him not going broke and being forced to sell his business.
…because he made so little money that he qualified for Medicaid, two little-known Affordable Care Act provisions kicked in. (Alex) Andrews was able to get health coverage without months of waiting for Medicaid. And his coverage applied even before he’d signed up — including the day he was shot.
Those provisions, called presumptive eligibility and retroactive eligibility, just had their own near-death experience. The Senate Republican plan to replace Obamacare would have eliminated them, part of a bigger drive to cut and cap spending on the program.
The provisions are crucial to helping low-income people avoid massive medical bills, but they got little attention in the broader health care fight. And although the Senate bill fell apart, presumptive and retroactive eligibility are still in danger.
Congress later this year needs to reauthorize the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), a program for low-income children that is closely linked to Medicaid. Many lobbyists in Washington expect that if Republicans fail to pass a comprehensive health care bill, they will try to tuck some of its provisions into the CHIP reauthorization bill. These smaller changes to Medicaid would be obvious candidates.
Presumptive and retroactive eligibility protected Andrews, who has a 6-year-old son, from financial devastation. They’ve done the same for other uninsured, low-income Americans who — like Andrews — didn’t know they were eligible for Medicaid until an emergency came up and they got stuck with massive hospital bills
Vox goes on to report on the biggest nightmare in the American health care industry: The fact that devastation of health for the uninsured often results in financial devastation as well. The Affordable Care Act slowed that down with some compassionate protections. Now U.S. Congressional Republicans want to sneakily rip those protections away.
Ten years ago, massive health care bills were one of the main reasons people filed for personal bankruptcy. A often-cited Harvard study shows that about 62 percent of personal bankruptcies in the United States in 2007 were triggered by hefty medical bills or health problems. That includes people who suffered a debilitating illness and could no longer work, not just those who couldn’t pay their bills…
Since passage of the Affordable Care Act, far fewer people have been going bankrupt. Since 2010, personal bankruptcy filings have dropped about 50 percent, from 1.5 million in 2010 to about 770,000 in 2016, according to the American Bankruptcy Institute. There are several reasons for that, including an improving economy and a 2005 law that made it harder — and more expensive — for people to file for bankruptcy. But legal experts also believe that the spike in number of people who now have health insurance is partially responsible for the decline in bankruptcies.
Read the whole Vox story. They did a great job. And if you want to read an update I did on Alex’s story in May, you can read that one here. I ran into Alex in Athens a couple weeks ago. He still doesn’t know who shot him. He still doesn’t know why this happened. But he is now working on an exciting prosthetics project to help others who have lost parts of themselves like he lost his eye. The man just keeps going. It’s damned admirable. And I’m certainly glad he’s in a position now to try to help others, and his business is still thriving, and he’s not bankrupt and financially destroyed.
So my question is, what in unholy hell is wrong with U.S. Congressional Republicans? Did somebody hurt them as children? How can they justify removing these protections to themselves? How can they sleep at night, knowing what type of devastation their proposals would do to people’s lives, and go on giving no fucks about that?
I guess it’s left to us – us decent Americans who care about and empathize with other human beings – to stop them. As the Vox article makes clear, they’re not going to stop. They’re going to try to tuck this into the reauthorization of a children’s health insurance program.
Think about that. Their play is: We’re going to force legislators to accept letting people be financially devastated by medical catastrophe or we get to accuse them of not supporting children’s health insurance. That’s some sick, sociopathic shit right there. I wish there was a nicer way to put it. There isn’t.