Viewpoint

Hoping for change while  waiting for some options

I am a very private person — telling this story doesn’t come easy.

Feb. 14, 2007, was almost the second worst day of my life. I was three days away from my 57th birthday. It was snowing hard.

I still insist that I was not “shoveling” snow but “pushing some around” to protect my back. Then I realized that something very, very different was happening. Hardly any pain. Profuse sweating. Trouble catching a breath.

My wife, Chris, and I were going to do errands before the snow got worse. In our post office’s parking lot, I asked her not to panic but to drive to the hospital — only minutes away even in the storm. Our doctor’s office was there, too. I thought someone in real trouble might need the ambulance.

The hospital was Monadnock Community Hospital in our small town of Peterborough. And I was having the heart attack I wasn’t supposed to have.

I had been a runner for three decades, completing a couple of marathons and several half-marathons. I didn’t eat red meat. I baked organic whole grain bread. I was married to the love of my life. My son was doing great. I did work that I was passionate about and believed in.

We also had very good insurance coverage through our jobs.

In the emergency room, I knew that if I wasn’t going to die, it would be this calm, caring, skilled team that would save my life. A nurse reassured me that my doctor was on his way.

MCH saved my life by stabilizing me for the long ambulance ride over slick, snow-covered roads to the New England Heart Institute in Manchester. There, another great team repaired me for more life. There was no damage to my heart muscle. A cardiologist from NEHI follows up with me annually at MCH.

My rescue continued thanks to MCH’s amazing Cardiac Rehab program and crew. At the beginning, I was afraid my “now” life would never resemble my “then” life. By the end of Cardiac Rehab I was running on a treadmill.

Locally accessible healthcare, gave me more life.

Last year my job was unexpectedly eliminated. For 90 days afterwards we had income and benefits. After that we had seven months when we could continue our coverage for about $400 per month. Then our only option became COBRA at $1,638 per month.

Our COBRA premium is more than our mortgage, property tax, electricity, phone, heating oil, and other insurance expenses combined. We seriously considered doing without health insurance.

Pre-existing conditions meant that our only hope would come from the Affordable Care Act. We opted to pay COBRA until the Act would become effective in January.

That hope was extinguished when the only exchange available to us, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, excluded our hospital and our doctors for their plan. Fortune magazine calls Anthem’s parent, WellPoint, Inc., “a massive health insurer” and its own annual report details over $2.6 billion in net income for 2012.

Peterborough doesn’t need to look very far back to recount lost jobs and the subsequent disappearance of healthcare benefits. Replacement jobs won’t come easy or maybe at all.

We are a caring community. Whether you call it Obamacare or the Affordable Care Act, the operative word is care. Yet for hundreds of us, access to that care won’t be local; for many winter days, it won’t even be possible.

We were told from the beginning that we could keep our doctors and our hospitals. We were promised choice. We were promised affordability. Now there is an asterisk next to those promises.

One option is not a choice. COBRA is not a sustainable choice for anyone unemployed.

I hear Granny D urging us to “raise a little hell.”

As a community, as a nation, we can fix this.

Whose lives are we going to save today?

Michael Justice lives in West Peterborough.

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