When my 33-year-old son dies sometime in the next few weeks, the official reason will be metastatic colon cancer.
But in reality, my son is dying from lack of health insurance. His cancer could have — and should have — been caught in its early stages. He was at very high risk of colon cancer and he was supposed to have colonoscopies every six months.
But he couldn’t afford them that often. He had one in 2003 that showed an abnormality, but the doctors told him it was scar tissue from a previous surgery.
He moved from New York to Savannah, Ga., and waited another year. He had some symptoms, but the doctor he saw told him it was nothing to worry about and sent him home.
Finally, he became really sick. He couldn’t keep food down and he had severe abdominal pain. For three weeks, the doctor took a wait-and-see attitude. Finally, he did a colonoscopy and sent Michael home. It wasn’t until months later that we found out the mass was so large it was blocking his colon. They never said a word to him.
He was in renal failure and near death when he was admitted through the emergency room three weeks after that colonoscopy. By then his cancer was stage 3.
He almost died two more times in the next year, once from another blockage caused by radiation damage and then from an infection that his doctor didn’t treat. If we had not gotten him an appointment at Duke University Medical Center when we did, he would have died from that infection.
Dr. Herb Hurwitz at Duke adopted Michael and fought as hard as Michael did to save his life. But it was too late to save him by the time the cancer was found.
My son’s case is no aberration. People die in this country every day because they don’t have insurance. A study by the Institute of Medicine and the Urban Institute last year showed that between 2000 and 2006, 167,000 Americans died prematurely because they didn’t have insurance. That’s 50 times the number who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept 11, 2001. Fifty times.
So, where is the war on this terror? Where is the outrage over these deaths?
In the last couple of weeks, I wrote about a 3-year-old boy, Paxten Mitchell, whose father’s insurance denied coverage of the child’s leukemia treatments. The response was amazing.
But how many other people don’t get that kind of attention? No one should have to be on the front page of the newspaper before they get the care they need.
People have told me not having insurance is the result of poor choices made at college age, that if kids stay in school, they’ll get jobs that offer good insurance.
That’s just not true and it’s blaming the victim.
Not everyone — even those who go to the best colleges — gets a job with a company that offers insurance. People go into business for themselves or work for small companies. People lose insurance when their companies ship jobs overseas, or if they divorce or go back to school. We have 47 million people in this country who have no health insurance.
So, who’s to blame? We all are for not insisting Congress do something. But then, they all have amazing health coverage. I think if their access to the health system were limited to the emergency room, we might see some movement toward improving access for everyone.
This is not just a poor people’s issue. It has moved into the middle class. Insurance at even the best of companies is more expensive and it covers less every year.
This is an issue for all Americans, and we need to demand something be done. My son is more than a statistic. He and his brother are my heart and soul, and I will never, ever get over losing him.