Of Mickey Mouse and Congressmen by Sandra Joy Stein
“Hello, my name is Sandra,” I recorded onto the senator’s voicemail as my own voice cracked. “I am calling you from my son’s Make-a-Wish trip at Disney World.” The tears started down my face. “I beg you to not repeal the Affordable Care Act.”
This was January 2017, just a week week before the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States. The timing felt ominous. We had watched the 2012 election returns from our son’s hospital bed, back when his tracheostomy tube had just been removed and a pacemaker was still protecting his heart. We knew that if our son were fortunate enough to leave the hospital alive, the outcome of the election would determine the fate of his potential for health insurance with a pre-existing condition and without lifetime limits.
Our son’s disease—a horrific and unpredictable autoimmune encephalitis that, like many other diseases, can strike anyone at any age and at any time—came on fast and furious. He went from perfectly healthy to critically ill within a week’s time. His first hospitalization was fifteen months long. The disease caused multiple acquired disabilities, the need for near round-the-clock nursing care, several medications, a wheelchair and other durable medical equipment. While his prognosis was uncertain, his spirit and grit were strong. The mere fact of our trip to Disney World felt like a miracle.
Make-a-Wish was incredibly responsive to his unique needs. Just weeks before our trip, my son stunned us when he regained his ability to walk with a gait trainer. I mentioned this exciting new development to the Make-a Wish staff member who coordinated our trip and she quickly rented a gait trainer for him to use at Disney. When she informed me that “It will be in your villa when you arrive,” I nearly dropped the phone. My son, the bulk of whose childhood has been spent in hospitals and at medical appointments, would be walking around the Magic Kingdom and, just like magic, the durable medical equipment needed to make that possible would appear!
It’s usually much harder. Even with relatively decent insurance, tenacious parents, and extraordinary medical providers, getting my son what he needs is a constant battle and soon after that Disney trip, the administration’s repeated attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and severely cut Medicaid made me fear for my son’s life. Should he need to change insurance for any of the predictable reasons, the likelihood that his coverage could be legally denied or prohibitively expensive has increased with each profit-motivated tactic to derail his protection. Given the necessity for mandatory enrollment of healthy folk to compensate for the coverage of folk like my son, coupled with the role of a robust Medicaid program to cover what private insurance does not for people with disabilities, the Republicans have been intent on discontinuing his current level of coverage and care. My son's ability to live at home, frankly to live at all, depends on the social contract between all of us.
Now the 2018 midterms are upon us and I fear for what lies ahead in health policies if the senators and congresspeople who voted against protecting my son’s healthcare remain in office. Already the administration has shortened the ACA enrollment period, allowed junk insurance policies to compete with more robust coverage, allowed non-protection of pre-existing conditions, launched a lawsuit to further undermine healthcare protections, failed to enforce current policies on which people with complex illness and disabilities rely, and misrepresented their healthcare policies and platforms while campaigning. Parents of children with medicalized lives know how to read the fine print of such policies and we know what puts our children’s lives at risk.
My mind returns to that moment at Disney, when I was taking time from my son’s Make-a-Wish trip to call the elected officials I had hoped would break with their party and protect my son. Now it is time to vote them out.
Today’s election matters for family caregivers of children with medical complexity in unprecedented ways. At Little Lobbyists we have leveraged our collective power to protect our children in both our political processes as we also perform their day-to-day care. As November is National Family Caregiver Month, Little Lobbyists is partnering with the Who Lives Like This podcast to feature caregivers, just as we have featured our beautiful children over the past 100 days.
To kickoff off National Family Caregiver Month, Who Lives Like This features writer and caregiving comedienne Sandra Joy Stein. You can hear her episode on Who Lives Like This at http://bit.ly/NaFaCaMoPodcast.