My first memory of my brother Sam is of the day he died.
I was three years old at the time, and he was seven. He had been diagnosed with an inoperable brainstem glioma several months earlier, and despite the best efforts of his doctors, his prognosis never improved. That morning, I was sitting playing “Donkey Kong Country” on the Super Nintendo with a hospice nurse. My parents came down and told me it was time to say goodbye. I didn’t understand what was happening – why was I saying goodbye? But I kissed my brother on the forehead, and that was the end.
For years, I thought what had happened to my family was deeply unfair. It’s true that my brother’s misfortune was out of the ordinary; very few children are diagnosed with the type of cancer my brother had, and among them it is universally a death sentence. What I didn’t grasp until recently was the truly unusual part of our circumstances: The only thing we had to worry about was whether his condition would improve.
To me, universal health insurance and paid family leave are not abstract goals. They are a human right...
The injustice of the American health care system is that, even though we spend more than any other country on health care, millions of Americans are left behind. Thinking about the untold number of people who have lost their savings, their jobs, or their houses at the same time they lost a son, a daughter, a brother is what makes me so passionate about this election.
While my brother was undergoing treatment, my family had health insurance through my dad’s work. My parents could take paid leave from their jobs to be with him while he was getting his chemotherapy and radiation. For most of my life these things seemed so fundamental that I took them for granted. But now I recognize they represent immense privileges that my family has while so many others do not. To me, universal health insurance and paid family leave are not abstract goals. They are a human right, a concrete promise that we as a nation will do all we can to ensure that everyone can take care of their children and other loved ones without worrying about going bankrupt or getting fired.
Since Obamacare was signed into law in 2010, the American health care system has seen many significant improvements. The proportion of uninsured Americans has dropped by approximately 7 percentage points, meaning 20 million more people are covered. A large majority of those 20 million are satisfied with their coverage. Premiums are lower than they would have been without the health care overhaul, which helps families already feeling the pinch of high premiums and deductibles. It is also good for our nation’s projected health care spending, which is why the Congressional Budget Office estimates that repealing the Affordable Care Act would increase the federal deficit. The law is not perfect, but it represents an enormous improvement over the pre-2010 status quo. It continues the progress toward a health care system in which we will not have 11.2 million Americans driven into poverty by out-of-pocket medical expenses each year. It is progress worth fighting for, but we can’t stop at simply holding the line.
When I vote this fall, it will be to honor Sam by ensuring that privileges that kept my family secure during our all-too-brief time with him become the new standard for all Americans.
When I was a freshman in college, I interviewed my parents about what it was like to watch Sam as he was diagnosed, treated, and ultimately died. The part of the interview that has stuck with me the most in the four years since then is what my dad whispered to my mom as they were driving back from the hospital, my brother dozing in the backseat:
“The joy was worth the pain.”
I wish every parent could know the joy of seeing all their children grow up healthy, like my sister and me, and that no parent has to endure the pain of losing a child. Meanwhile, I will vote for candidates who believe that we should continue to extend health insurance coverage to more Americans, and who will support paid leave for people to care for seriously ill family members. Because when I vote this fall, it will be to honor Sam by ensuring that the privileges that kept my family secure during our all-too-brief time with him become the new standard for all Americans.