The Wall Street Journal has published a health care op-ed that's getting a great deal of attention. It's by a California woman named Edie Littlefield Sundby, who's been fighting stage-4 gallbladder cancer for seven years and now has lost a health insurance plan she wanted to keep. Sundby says that, thanks to President Obama, there's no affordable alternative that gives her access to her doctors:
My choice is to get coverage through the government health exchange and lose access to my cancer doctors, or pay much more for insurance outside the exchange (the quotes average 40% to 50% more) for the privilege of starting over with an unfamiliar insurance company and impaired benefits....Sundby has a PPO policy? That's curious, because last November, when she was profiled in AARP The Magazine, we were told the following (emphasis added):
Two things have been essential in my fight to survive stage-4 cancer. The first are doctors and health teams in California and Texas: at the medical center of the University of California, San Diego, and its Moores Cancer Center; Stanford University's Cancer Institute; and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.
The second element essential to my fight is a United Healthcare PPO (preferred provider organization) health-insurance policy.
Since March 2007 United Healthcare has paid $1.2 million to help keep me alive, and it has never once questioned any treatment or procedure recommended by my medical team.
In July 2007, [a surgeon] cut a 14-inch incision from Edie's breast to her pelvic bone and removed her gallbladder, a substantial portion of her liver and several lymph nodes....Was this story mistaken while the Journal op-ed is correct? Or did Sundby switch plans only in the past two years, while implying in the op-ed that she was covered by a PPO for the past seven?
For nearly four more years -- while technically in remission -- Edie continued to receive chemotherapy (79 treatments in total, 836,000 milligrams of chemicals pumped into her body). She was able to do this in part thanks to her insurance, a catastrophic medical policy that covered 80 percent of the cost of her treatment. (Being self-employed, she and Dale had opted for this plan, which is generally less expensive than overall health coverage.) Even so, the 20 percent out-of-pocket copayments amounted to tens of thousands of dollars.
I'd also like to point out that Sundby and her husband, Dale, aren't exactly typical Americans struggling with a health crisis while punching a clock and hoping that an inadequate paycheck will stretch to the next payday:
Dale ended up heading IBM's Palo Alto office just as the Silicon Valley was taking off, and Edie accepted an executive position at AT&T in San Francisco. But in 1984 they decided to leave their corporate jobs and venture out as software entrepreneurs, settling in San Diego, where, in 1988, they had their twin girls. They experienced huge business successes, as well as some failures, and never lost their drive. In 2007, with Whitney in college and Stefanie taking a year off, they were optimistic about their next project: developing a financial-services platform using software developers in Ukraine.You can read about some of Dale Sundby's Clinton-era dot-com ventures, and the millions of dollars of venture capital he burned through, here and here.
Many Americans, hit with a situation like this, are already stretching their income to the breaking point. The AARP story tells us that Edie Sundby first experienced symptoms when "she'd just returned to Southern California from Chennai, India, where she and one of her identical-twin daughters, Stefanie, then 18, had spent five weeks volunteering at an elementary school." (Stefanie, by the way, was "wrapping up a neuroscience degree at Stanford" -- not an inexpensive school -- at the time the story was published.) And Edie's husband, upon learning of her diagnosis,
ultimately decided to walk away from the Ukraine project, knowing he couldn't commit while assisting Edie in her battle. The results, financially, were "traumatic," Dale says. "But we are, as a family, willing to go to the end, to spend whatever it takes. That's what vows and commitments are all about."In this country, it's rare that a husband and wife can just choose to clear time from work while one of them battles cancer. It's not always possible even for the patient to stop working. Edie, however, just rejuvenates her spirit by traveling as far afield as Alaska and Fiji, as she explains in this post at the "Well" blog of The New York Times.
Whenever Edie suffered a setback, she took what she calls "a spirit quest" into the wilderness. Weary from chemo in the summer of 2009, she and Dale traveled by camper van through national parks in the West. "The wilderness helps me forget everything," Edie explains. "I don't think about cancer; I feel healthy there." Twice more they headed out on camping trips, the last time in 2011 when the cancer returned.
She never intended to stop working however, as the AARP story noted:
Early in 2013 she hopes to launch Skin Jolie, a beauty line she's been developing.I bring all this up not to criticize the Sundbys for taking advantage of a certain amount of material wealth, but to point out that Edie Sundby is, in all probability, not like you, and not like the people you know who sometimes have to choose between medicine and food, and whom the Affordable Care Act was designed to help.