When I tell the story of how my brother fought for his life — and ultimately, won — people don’t always understand that I’m haunted. To my friends who know the story, it should be something I can let go of — I mean, he’s healthy now, right? But the perspective I have on the world and the life I lead will forever be informed by the two months that my only sibling spent in the hospital.
In a face-off with death, he won. He’s lucky. And that makes me lucky, because I still have my brother here. But what most people don’t realize is that this brush with death has left me with a forever-anxiety. Uncertainty breathes down my neck, and I worry about his health all the time.
When my brother was a senior in high school, he contracted a staph infection that ultimately infected his heart. Standing at the watershed moment of childhood and adulthood, my 18-year-old brother required open-heart surgery. Before the infection, he was a very healthy young man, rarely missing a day of school. But there’s an aspect of randomness to illnesses that most people don’t realize until they become its victims.
Nearly six years out from his surgery, my brother is now a graduate of the University and plans to become a lawyer. Though he will require medical attention and probably another heart surgery later on, he’s healthy.
For nearly a year following his release from the hospital, I watched my father file paperwork and negotiate with our health care provider. Though working through the bureaucracy of health insurance was aggravating and challenging, my brother would not be alive without it.
For me, the debate surrounding the Affordable Care Act is personal. Before this legislation, medical insurance providers often avoided insuring people who had illnesses that likely required future treatment. Ironically, this meant that those who needed healthcare coverage the most were denied so that insurance companies could guarantee their own profits. If not for the passing of this act, my brother’s pre-existing condition would have made it virtually impossible for him to procure health insurance as an adult. Under the Affordable Care Act, my brother is insured on my parents’ plan for another three years, and he won’t be denied coverage because of his surgery.
I believe that health care is a basic human right, and it has taken our country too long to get to the place we are today. My brother’s health hangs in the balance of this new legislation. His story may not be extraordinary, but were his circumstances different, it would have had another ending. If, for example, my parents worked for companies that didn’t have health insurance. Or if my brother, as a law school student, got sick again after he was no longer covered by my parents’ insurance and had chosen — like most young adults — not to buy health insurance.
Without health insurance, my brother would have been left vulnerable to more than his own illness. He would have risked his own financial security. In fact, according to NerdWallet Health, nearly two million people will file for bankruptcy this year due to unpaid medical bills or unsatisfactory coverage. In this country, medical bills are the biggest cause of bankruptcies.
Upon hearing of my brother’s recovery, one religious leader in my high school told me he had been lucky, and thank goodness so many people had been praying for his welfare, for surely God had played a heavy hand in the outcome of his illness. And yes, there was an aspect of luck — both good and bad — to my brother’s illness. But he also had a team of highly skilled, fast-acting doctors and the ability to pay for medical costs on his side. Unlike, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau, the 6.6 million uninsured children in this country.
The Affordable Care Act provides a new security for my brother. Sure, the passing of this legislation doesn’t solve all my brother’s health problems, or magically make my anxiety disappear. But it keeps uncertainty a few steps behind me, rather than breathing down my neck.
Micah Nelson is an LSA sophomore.