a burgundy zine

Dear Bernie Sanders by Emily

By: Emily

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders speaking with supporters at a campaign rally at Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Phoenix, Ariz. Photo by Gage Skidmore.

Source: Bernie Sanders | Gage Skidmore

In a passionate, personable letter to presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Emily reflects on why our country is in need of change now more than ever.

Dear Bernie Sanders,

I am writing to let you know that I am not a millennial, an immigrant, a minority, or on welfare; and I wrote you in on the ballot for 2016 and I plan to vote for you again in 2020. I believe my experiences in my lifetime sum up exactly why we need a president like you who can help rebuild America from the ground up.

My story goes way beyond healthcare, but I will keep it focused on the issue at hand for the immediate urgency of the Congressional Hearing on Medicare for All.

I’m 47-years-old and I’ve lived in New York state for the majority of my life. I’m a third and fifth generation New Yorker from both sides of my ancestry. I’ve been married twice with no success, but I do have two extraordinary children. Somewhere along the exchange of my grandparents to my parents in the 1970’s our family’s successes began to fall apart.

I won’t get into details. Sometimes things just happen in life that are out of our control and difficult to recover from. Long story short, I was raised by a single mother who struggled to keep a stable roof over our heads and worked very long hours at multiple jobs. I had my own house key and a list of chores as early as seven years old.

My mother worked hard and eventually bought her family home that was inherited with a mortgage after her parents’ early death. However, her success came at the price of leaving her daughter without much support in school and in life.

My explanation is not an excuse for any sort of pity or hand out. I simply want to set the scene for the sacrifices many families have to make to afford basic living expenses.

A single income can no longer support a family and “basic” needs to survive aren’t enough to “live.”

There’s no doubt in theoretical thinking that one of the biggest problems we’re facing is the denial of quality of life. The kind of sacrifice and conflict that arises from struggling families is bound to lead to resentment of the upper classes, crime, and even violence. This is just a repeat of every history lesson since the beginning of time and it’s frustrating to see so many politicians sweep it under the rug.

My first marriage failed very early on due to my husband’s alcohol and substance abuse, which began after our daughter was born. I was enrolled in college during this tumultuous time. I worked full time, went to school full time, and supported and raised my daughter by myself. It took me 20 years to pay off my student loans as I continued to raise my daughter.

I started my own business, which gave me the flexibility to be present for my daughter and support her in school and life. I took every odd job on weekends to help pay the bills just so we could afford basic means. There was never enough money for private health insurance or a savings account, but I was there to check her homework and guide her through life events.

I married my second husband when my daughter was in middle school. We should’ve been okay with two incomes and all of the investments he showed me. I moved to another state to give my daughter a better life since my second husband was a home owner. I commuted to my business every week for half of the week and worked from home for the remainder so I could be present for my daughter and now, son.

This marriage failed quickly as my husband’s investments and property were revealed to be scams. He had quite a horrifying portfolio of theft and scams from local residents in his home state. The life I had built fell apart quickly. It took all of my savings to save my children and relocate back to New York.

Over the course of my life, I’ve worked full time – an average of 60-80 hours per week – since I was 17-years-old. I work hard and I’m an intelligent woman. I’ve raised two terrific children. My daughter is now 26-years-old and about to graduate from Fordham University with a P.h.D. My son is a freshman in high school on the honor roll.

For the majority of these years, I’ve had to rely on New York state for assistance in basic health care coverage. I am fortunate to live in a state that has this benefit, most do not. It’s not the same coverage I might receive from a paid plan through an employer, but it will cover emergencies and wellness visits.

There have been many times that this insurance wouldn’t cover the actual care I needed, and it’s those times that I really felt the stress of the inadequate healthcare system.

For instance, I had a major injury to my back twenty years ago which could be corrected through chiropractic adjustments and physical therapy, but insurance would only cover cortisone shots for pain or surgical repair.

I was fortunate to have a doctor that would allow me to pay off the therapeutic care over the course of several years so I didn’t have to undergo extreme invasive shots, surgery, or even pain medications.

However, this became another financial burden to an already strained family (Note: My chiropractic and therapy care cost much less overall than the drugs and surgery the state was willing to pay for. It makes you think about who is making the decisions on coverage).

Another great example would be my corrective lenses. The state insurance plan will cover one new pair of glasses every two years; but this doesn’t include scratch resistance coating to prolong the life of the lenses, replacement of lost or damaged glasses, or even a more appropriate prescription like progressive lenses.

How about access to healthcare? Many doctors don’t accept the plans offered through state assistance and the ones that do are typically overwhelmed with patients. The average wait for a wellness visit is over three months; and if you work full-time and require an evening or weekend appointment, you may need to book even further into the future.

You may not even find a doctor within a reasonable distance that’s accepting new patients. When I was trying to find a therapist for my son to help him process the difficulty he was having with his father during the divorce, the closest one in our insurance plan was a ninety-minute drive from our home. My insurance company insisted that if it was that important, I’d take off work for the appointment.

Do you see the irony? I’m in a health plan assisted by the state because I don’t make enough money and now they want me to take a day off of work to use it.

I’m thankful for the times that I’ve had healthcare coverage when needed. I work hard and I just don’t make enough money to cover the rising costs of living, especially as a single parent.

Over the past few years, I tried to make a change to increase our quality of life by changing careers. I left my personal store front business after twenty years and went to work in a corporate office. I finally felt a little breathing room for buying my son school clothes, having some money for a day in the city visiting my daughter, and perhaps enjoying a hobby.

Yet this became short lived because now that I am making a slightly higher wage, I lost my access to reduced health care through the state. It’s literally a no-win situation.

My current employer offers health care, but it costs so much money that I go back to not being able to afford the basic costs of living with this new expense. It’d seem to the average American that I’m making a decent wage and should be living comfortably, but the high cost of living expenses in my area (and the surrounding areas of New York) exceed the federal income level for assistance.

A family of two is allowed to make up to $31,284.00 for assistance, but the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is between $19,200- 25,200.00 per year. This doesn’t include the security deposit, and the cheaper rental is typically an illegal or inadequate living space (Note: The NYC average one-bedroom rental is $33,600.00 annually).

Long story short; I sleep on the couch so my son can have a bedroom and I still don’t have health insurance, even though I work sixty hours per week.

I know I’m not alone. And while I’ve been putting this letter together for you, our country has been hit with a pandemic. A large percentage of the population is at risk for needing hospitalization or even just medical assistance. It’s a scary thought to be entering this time without health insurance of any kind.

If I get sick, will I be bankrupted by the hospital bills? I have a social security number so I’ll be charged full cost and the bill(s) will follow me until they’re paid. Or the worst case, I will not receive care because I do not have insurance.

What are the deciding factors when choosing who receives care (or not) when we don’t have enough facilities or equipment to help everyone?

In Italy they had to decide who to help, but they based it on who had a greater physical chance of survival. In the United States, we have often turned our heads on the less fortunate with an inadequate health care system across the nation. Will now be the time when our country finally admits that the patient with the greatest chance of survival is the one with the most wealth?

For most of us, it has been obvious for a long time. This is why my vote is for rebuilding our nation from the inside out. The value of a person’s life is greater than a dollar amount. We are not products. We are living souls that connect and grow and make life worth living through love, creativity, and hope.

There was a time when choosing a career in the healthcare field was motivated by the rigorous science curriculum and the yearning to help people and improve the world; but now in America, the motivation is in acquiring excessive wealth. I know this doesn’t speak for every single health professional; but let’s be honest, by privatizing health care, this has been the largest motivational factor in this field.

With warm regards,
Emily


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