Human Suffering is Not a Business!

Since late last summer when I started walking the 38th District and talking to people about what matters to them, health care has been a common thread. The constant threats to the Affordable Care Act, increased medical care costs, the rise in premiums and the out of pocket costs have many Illinois Valley residents in great distress!

I know. I've been there! In the 36 years that Stan and I have been married, our family has faced 16 major medical crises. It started with my husband being buried alive in a trench collapse at work and continued through his three back surgeries in 2016. Yes, they were able to repair the injuries he sustained that day in 1992 and get him back to work. But over time he has had one serious setback after another.

Then in 2004, our son was diagnosed with two serious medical conditions. For months we thought we were going to lose him. Thank goodness he has conditions that can be managed, but his medical costs for diagnosis and ongoing treatment went far over the amount our insurance company allotted us every year.

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Many families are faced with the same dilemma: Do you provide the medical care that is needed no matter the cost, or do you only provide what you can afford? That is the painful question everyone who is chronically ill or has a chronically ill loved one faces every day.

In our case, we chose to go deeply into debt to provide everything we could for our son. Year after year, medical and ancillary debt stacked up. I took extra jobs stocking greeting cards and magazines, building furniture displays in stores, giving samples at the grocery and designing flowers at area flower shops all while working our farm and being a caregiver and Mom. We sold everything we could live without: Horses, saddles, training gear, my horse trailer, whatever would help pay the medical bills that just kept coming. Nothing was more important than taking care of my husband and my son – even the shame of debt could not stop me!

We went through some terrible times. But most importantly, my husband and our son survived! And despite our struggles, we were luckier than most people – we were finally able to pay off our debts. Now on the other side, I look back and think about how I can help others who are living through this kind of painful crisis.

We haven't always had this "for profit" health care system. Until President Nixon, healthcare was never offered for profit. Now look, I don't begrudge anyone their profit margins, their earnings, their lifestyles – unless they come directly from the suffering of others. I DO have a problem with that! I know how my family suffered and I have heard from you that your families have suffered too. ENOUGH! Your pain – our pain – shouldn't be big business for anyone!

 Image courtesy of the   National Cancer Institute

Image courtesy of the National Cancer Institute

Let's start by showing some compassion, and agree that we're all entitled to medical care as needed, without having to hold spaghetti suppers to pay our bills. (Ask any cancer patient, there aren't enough fundraisers in the world to cover the cost of chemotherapy!)

So how do we make this happen? By providing a Public Option so ALL Illinois residents can buy into the State’s health care system.

Will it be free? No. But it will have a controlled premium that, by pooling our money, will be lower than what most of us pay now. We also need to control co-pays, deductibles and have a maximum out of pocket cost to keep us from poverty due to illness.

Will it be “Universal Healthcare”? No, that is something that must be addressed on a federal level.

Will it mean our doctors won't be paid what he or she is worth? No! Medical professionals already negotiate their fees with insurance companies, and they would continue to do so.

Will it mean there will be long waits to see our doctors? No.

Would we be subjected to a “list” or review to see if we need care? No.

Will we get substandard care? No! It will be the same care my family and I will have when I am your Senator.

This is possible. But it will take years to plan and implement. We have a candidate for Governor in JB Priztker who knows how important this is to the health and well being of the people of Illinois! It’s not something we can wave a magic wand and create, but it is something well worth working for! You deserve it! Your families deserve it! WE CAN DO BETTER! And we will – when you send me to Springfield.

How Can Medical Debt be a Crime?

Recently I read this report published by the ACLU. The report describes the growing number of states issuing arrest warrants on behalf of private collection agencies. This practice is against the law in many of the states where it occurs. The stories of people arrested and imprisoned because of their inability to pay their bills are simply heartbreaking.

Simply put: NO ONE should ever go to jail because they are poor or unable to pay.

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The number one reason for bankruptcy in the United States is medical debt and the ancillary debt that accompanies it. Let's face it – debt is big business. According to the ACLU, one in three adults in the United States has a debt that has been turned over to a private collection company.

Our family struggled with medical and ancillary debt for many years. We endured 16 separate medical crises with a chronically ill child, plus work and farm related accidents. With a lot of hard work we paid our way out time and time again. We were able to pay our way out by living meagerly, taking extra jobs, selling off property and doing without. And still, we were luckier than many – not everyone has those options.

Debt collectors are merciless. Quoting the ACLU again, “The private debt collection industry uses prosecutors and judges as weapons against millions of Americans who can’t afford to pay their bills.” By connecting debt to employment applications, applicants are further hindered in being able to pay down their debt. By refusing to accept an affordable repayment program these cases end up in the court system, costing taxpayers money.

The stories in this article strike close to home. While we have paid off all of our debts from medical and ancillary, I remember those terrifying phone calls threatening arrest because I owed a bill related to my child or husband being ill. Seriously, who does that?

To this day, there is horrible terminology on my "record" that describes my previous debt load – terminology designed to make me sound like a criminal, to pigeonhole me and hold me "in my place." What it really means is that we struggled mightily not just when our son was ill or my husband was injured, but financially after the fact. It seemed like the pain went on forever.

A medical crisis should never be followed by a financial crisis! It's difficult to move forward when you are hemmed in by debt and no person should be labeled a criminal for owing money. And certainly arrest and jail and misuse of taxpayer dollars as a private debt collection process is WRONG.

The $900 Campaign Car

My husband and I have two children in college. We aren't really "car people" but we ARE 100% committed to being there for our children while they make their college journey – and that includes financially. We promised ourselves when they graduated we would buy ourselves a brand new car!

Currently we have a '98 GMC pickup that our daughter drives. Our primary farm truck is an '00. (That one is at SIU with our son right now.) Hubby drives an '00 Jeep Cherokee that he used for work until he retired two years ago.

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When I decided to run for office, we knew our aging vehicles could not take the stress and miles required of them. And like most middle class families, we have to weigh giant purchases like cars carefully. But we needed another car.

So along came the $900 Mercury Sable! Quite a car in her day, with lots of options that still work despite her age. And she looks rather nice despite her years. The Sable is another '00 but hundreds of thousands of miles less than any other vehicle we own. And a perfect fit for our "college parents" budget.

After after she was washed and dried here in town I proudly stuck my magnet signs to her sides. The $900 Sable symbolizes the way all of us make it work in the trenches of the middle class. We do all we can for our families, for our children and for our future.

Sure, she isn't the brand new car we intend to buy when our children complete college. But the $900 car is perfect! She fits the struggle that all of us feel so acutely right now. The fight for our future is at hand. Middle class Americans, you and I, are working harder than we ever have. That's why we must make some noise in Springfield! It will take all of us – hardworking parents, millennials just starting their first jobs, and even some candidates who drive their $900 cars proudly.