I became a Type I Diabetic at the age of 7. My mother was basically a single mom at that time, with a lineage of men who had chosen other priorities other than staying faithful to their families. As such, she worked full-time and was an excellent example of hard work, perseverance, and care and love for her children. We were never starving nor did we go without nurturance and what we needed, but medical expenses were difficult with my chronic illness and finances were never something that came easy. Child support was not paid by my father, so my mom was left to carry the full responsibility for me and my brother. She often kept the struggle to herself, but I had an idea and I know now just how much she was juggling stress and worry about my health, and about how she was going to pay for the care that I needed.
Working part-time was never an option. As a young mother, she didn’t have the privilege of going to college, so though she found good jobs, she was never paid what she truly should have been making. Through her employment, though, my mother always made sure we had health insurance. And as you well know, some insurance companies provide good coverage, yet some do not and many have high premiums, deductibles, and co-pays. The cost of a single bottle of insulin, usually lasting me about 4-5 weeks, was several hundred dollars without insurance. And then there was the cost of all of the other supplies, plus the medical visits to ensure I stayed healthy. We often drove 3.5 hours to see my endocrinologist, because my small town did not have the medical resources that a young diabetic needs.
My mom had worked for our local airport, and was laid off due to downsizing. Thus, we were without insurance for a time and it was tough to make ends meet. Paying for my diabetic supplies was difficult and my mom had my younger brother to care for as well. There were also some insurance companies who would not cover me as I had a “pre-existing condition.” Enter a huge gift from the government: CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program). I still remember the relief we felt as one of my doctors shared with my mom that there was a health insurance program for children that I would likely qualify for, and that it had very small co-pays, even for high-cost items like insulin and test strips. I did qualify, and this was a huge blessing to our family and gave me options I hadn’t had before.
Enter my teenage years. With puberty, changing hormones, and my divided attention and somewhat rebellious spirit, diabetes became more difficult to control. One of my dear friends (also a Type I Diabetic) and I decided that candy bars were a perfectly acceptable afternoon snack as we TA’d for our middle-school teacher. Don’t judge–we were sick of the carrot sticks and nasty sugar-free candy. Now, diabetes is a very difficult disease to endure and control for anyone. But, at this point, I was desperately trying to get my blood sugar levels to a desired range. The best way to do that is an insulin pump, yet those ran upwards of $3,000, with the needed supplies several hundred dollars more per month. The second best way was the method I was using, which involved taking one injection in the morning and then a shot every time I consumed any amount of carbohydrates. You can imagine how that goes when you are a teenager with five minutes between classes and a deep desire to socialize. Not only did I often run high blood sugar levels, which are responsible for devastating complications such as blindness and kidney failure, but I had severe low blood sugars as well, which are more serious in the acute sense. My mother was scared to death because these sometimes resulted in me passing out and falling.
Two low blood sugar reactions stand out the most. Primarily because my mother has recounted the stories multiple times, each time describing how terrifying they were for her.
The first was a scenario in which my mother walked into our kitchen in the early morning to find me standing at the counter eating brownies straight out of the pan. She recalls smiling and asking me “Brownies for breakfast?” At that point, I turned and looked at her with a slight smile, and then passed out and fell straight back on the kitchen floor. Thankfully, the brownies kicked in and raised my blood sugar enough that I came to before she needed to call for an ambulance. Yet, I was nauseated and had a headache for the entire day, as was always the case after a severe low reaction.
The second incident was more serious. My mother came downstairs to my bedroom to make sure I was up and getting ready for school. She walked into my room to see me sitting on the carpet, staring at the blood on my hands, with a large pool of blood on my head. I had fallen again, but this time hit the corner of my dresser. I woke up at the hospital with the doctor stitching up my gash. That day, the doctor had a long and detailed conversation with us about our options for trying to get my diabetes under better control. When he found out we had CHIP, his mood immediately improved. He gave us the wonderful news that this insurance would actually cover an insulin pump for me, and would also cover 90-100% of the supplies I needed to be able to use the pump.
A few weeks later, we drove that 3.5 hours again, but this time came home with a very expensive device that has likely saved my life. Not only did my diabetes get under better control during my teenage years, but I still wear the pump to this day and though control is still somewhat elusive at times, my long-term prognosis is significantly better with this medical technology.
And here’s what is important to recognize and acknowledge. The hard work, intelligence, understanding, and compassion of Hillary Clinton played an enormous role in my story. She and her husband were not the only ones involved in getting CHIP going, but she was a critical player and fought hard for it. And she worked with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure that the states were adopting the program, and that it was successful and effective at increasing health care for children.
Not only that, but many people claim that Democrats are too liberal in their promotion of welfare for U.S. citizens. You have undoubtedly heard of people who are receiving welfare (of any sort) mocked and judged for their laziness or desire to live off of the government. To not do their fair share. And to drain the pockets of the “real” hardworking Americans.
I am here to say that my mother is the exact opposite of those things, and so am I. She was doing all she could as a single mother and she represents the people and situations that many politicians are advocating for and trying to help. A country that takes care of its women and children is a loving and successful country indeed. May my story just be a reminder to all of us that there is huge variability in the stories of human beings, and that we are better people when we are supporting one another. Though there may be some who are inappropriately utilizing the welfare systems in our country, there are many who do not have a lot of options or who are relying on it for a time.
I am now 36 years old and have had two healthy children of my own. I’ve carried my own health insurance throughout my adult life and my husband and I pay a ridiculous amount of money for my diabetic supplies. However, I am happy to say that my diabetes is under relatively good control and I have no complications as of yet. I am so incredibly grateful to Hillary Clinton and to all of the others who were involved in the huge success of CHIP. Thank you, Hillary, for caring enough about families to make sure this didn’t slip through the cracks. For negotiating, brainstorming, and advocating for me. It was so needed by my family at a critical time in my life.
To the rest of us, please bite your tongue when you are tempted to make blanket generalizations about welfare and who is on it. You might say that my case is a rare exception, but that is simply not true. Single parents, those born into poverty, those who are injured or suffer a major medical illness, veterans, those with severe mental illness, etc., etc, do not have the same luxuries and privileges that you might. They cannot simply “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” because they don’t have boots. Nor do they have a way to get boots. They would have great difficulty even finding a pair. They need us. And what greater love can we show than to offer our boots to them? Some people need the help of others. They need the village. In fact, ALL people need help at different points in their life, financial or otherwise. My story is but one in a million and there are so many people that I have worked with who are rightfully dependent upon their community for a huge variety of reasons. Here is an encouragement to all of us, and to our politicians, to keep working for adequate, available, and affordable health insurance for everyone. And a call for all of us to enjoy the giving process, to reap the fruits of a generous spirit.