December 22nd, 2009
03:56 PM ET

Denied coverage? Not anymore, I hope

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/HEALTH/09/16/health.medical.bills/art.bills.gi.jpg]

Ismael Estrada
AC360° Producer

It was 6 a.m. on September 1, 1991. I was 20 and in a deep sleep in my childhood bedroom. I had come home for a few months and found that there was no comfort like the familiar bed where you've slept your entire life. My sister tapped me on the shoulder gently to wake me up. She whispered in my ear and I jumped out of bed. It was the worst day of my life.

Thousands of memories were flashing through my head, but none as vivid as the day, many years earlier, when I was called out of class in the 6th grade.

I was told by my history teacher to head my counselor's office. He wanted to have a chat. Earlier that week, my mother had told me she had some bad news from the doctor's office. She just received some test results she had been waiting for and learned what she says she already knew. She had breast cancer.

My counselor sat with me for an hour and we talked about what I thought was going to happen to my mother. The whole thing was surreal. Up until that moment, my biggest concern in life was having a good day at baseball practice. I was told that my mother's chances were very good; the cancer was caught in time and although she was going to have a tough road ahead, ultimately she would be just fine.

A year later, after many rounds of chemotherapy and a mastectomy, she battled back and was doing very well. She beat cancer. She switched jobs shortly thereafter and she was always trying to find a job with more flexibility and better wages so she could raise her kids more comfortably.

Needless to say, it was a constant battle – it's not easy raising 4 kids as a single mother. Insurance coverage was very hard to come by because my mom now had a history of cancer – this became what they call a 'pre-existing condition' – easy access to coverage just wasn't going to happen.

Many years later, I was sitting on the couch and talking with my mother in the living room. She had tears in her eyes and reached over to grab my hand. She placed my hand just above her stomach where I felt a very hard knot about the size of a golf ball. The cancer had returned, only this time was different. She had grown so frustrated with her insurance coverage denials that she started to neglect her own health care. She was exhausted and given up even though there may have been other options for her. She wasn't going for regular doctor visits or check-ups. She ignored all the warning signs and the cancer had spread. She was told she would die within the year.

She decided to live her last months in her own home. She opted for hospice care and my sisters and I all moved back into the house to help look after her. We watched as she lost weight, struggled to do everyday tasks, and eventually just started to fade away. She was gaunt, her skin began to yellow and she was starting to forget her own children due to the pain medication she was taking.

"Mom has passed away." I'll never forget those words my sister whispered in my ear. My mother, Rebecca Estrada, was only 49-years-old.

I'm not a Democrat nor a Republican. I think both parties have serious flaws. I'm more of a skeptic by nature. I don't like the backroom deals that go on in congress to have legislation passed. The "what are you going to do for me?" attitude has made our political system so infuriating. It really helps you understand why seven presidents have tried and failed to pass a bill changing our health care system.

But whether you agree or disagree with the health care bill, there is language that I am happy to see. If passed, one can no longer be denied health coverage because of a pre-existing condition. Now, I know, my mother made mistakes and didn't take advantage of many programs that could have helped her, but no one should be denied health coverage because of an illness they've had to fight.

Filed under: Health Care • Ismael Estrada
soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Brad, Kansas

    Powerful story. My wife and I have three sons. Our youngest had a bone marrow transplant in 2007. He is doing well. Our middle son has had two surgeries on his legs in the last five years. He is doing well also.
    I had to change jobs just over a year ago. My new company does not offer health insurance, but provides some money to off-set the costs of insurance. I have COBRA coverage until April.
    Trouble is no insurance company is going to want to insure our family. Even if the insurance company can't deny us coverage, they are going to make the premium beyond my reach. The public option would have been a good option for us, perhaps the only feasible option. I am at a loss as to what to do.

    December 23, 2009 at 9:20 am |
  2. Azure t

    It seems insurance companies know if they push a sick person around long enough they can literally squeeze the life out of them. Enough is enough! Who runs this country, anyway?

    December 22, 2009 at 7:10 pm |
  3. Stacy

    Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sorry you and your family had to go through this. No one should have to fight insurance companies while they're fighting cancer. It's immoral.

    I share your hope about the bill. Due to my pre-existing conditions, I am unable to buy insurance on my own. This means my employment choices are limited. I can never take a job that doesn't offer a good plan. And if one day I can't work? Hopefully with this bill, that's a worry I'll never have to deal with.

    December 22, 2009 at 6:55 pm |
  4. Jeanette

    It is so sad that our government has come to this. We didn't need a health bill that is so many pages long and made so no one even knows what they are saying. All the reform we needed was for them to do the things that needed correcting.
    The main thing that needs correcting is our politicians. We should not allow them to be bought by lobbiest. and we should not let their votes be bought by them withholding their votes on bills till they get what they want. Obama promised no more pork..Another promise gone down the tubes.

    December 22, 2009 at 4:59 pm |
  5. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    We need to stop thinking single minded. Every American deserves healthcare because we all pay for medical research which some people freely volunteer their bodies for the study which can result in saving lives.

    December 22, 2009 at 2:21 pm |
  6. jenny

    Heartbreaking!! This is why we NEED, no MUST have healthcare reform now.

    December 22, 2009 at 2:05 pm |
  7. Heather

    The thing is, there are treatments and cures for cancer that are very inexpensive and have been poo-poo'ed by the FDA due to pressure by the Big Pharm Co's. MAYBE once we have a policy that prevents denying healthcare, our insurance companies will begin covering cheaper, alternative healthcare that ACTUALLY works!

    December 22, 2009 at 12:49 pm |
  8. Teresa, OH

    re " Now, I know, my mother made mistakes and didn't take advantage of many programs that could have helped her, but no one should be denied health coverage because of an illness they've had to fight." I dont think your mother made any mistakes. She did what she could for herself. Fighting w/ people for your given rights takes an incredible emotional toll. Just think how upset we get when we get a utility bill for $10 bucks more than it should be. The only thing your mother could have done was confide in someone her frustrations and let the person ( who would be less emotionally involved) take over the non-stop phone calls. Who knows what the outcome would be?

    No one- in this country- should be denied healthcare. No one.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:48 pm |
  9. Glenn Westerlund

    ismael hit the nail on the head. I am so fed up with the politics in our country. It is sad to see the hypocritical views that our politicians have. We have a political civil war going on and it is getting out of control. To see senators and congressmen voting on something based on thier party affiliation with the hope that the other party fails is disturbing. I see our leaders and others just lying and making things up just for personal gain. We used to be a powerful country because we would rally around the President and stick together. I see the country taking big hits with it's world leadership because of the lack of unity at home. We Americans need to get our act together, quit being so greedy, and start doing the things within that make other countries admire us. We need to help all citizens not just the wealthy because they have the biggest mouths and largest clout. Every American is just as important as any other. That's how this country started. I hope our politicians can take their blinders off and start thinking about all people not just their buddies.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:44 pm |
  10. Heidi

    I am an American who is married to a Canadian and living in Canada. While I would desperately like to move back home, I have had the misfortune of having cancer while living in Canada. We cannot move to a place where I would be unable to get coverage.

    We will continue to stay here due to public health care. If anything does come back, the care I would get would make it a lot less likely that my son would have to live the hell you have gone through. Honestly, as a mother, it is my worst fear about any cancer coming back. My son is only 4 and I am terrified to leave him without a mother.

    My heart is aching for your family and your mother. Thank you for sharing your story. Let's hope it helps.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:42 pm |
  11. robyn

    I agree. I am just so sick of all the politics, and the Republicans not working with the Democrats, just so they can say "I told you so" when the administration fails, even though they will never admit their part.
    All Americans should get the help they deserve. My dad died in August of cancer and was denied help at MD Anderson, even though my parents insurance would cover it, because it wasn't the right insurance. We will never know whether it would have made a difference.

    December 22, 2009 at 12:02 pm |
  12. Kathy Howe

    The pain of watching your mother die a slow death from cancer is devastating. I cannot imagine going through this experience and being denied coverage.

    What kind of people do we Americans want to be? I pray that our lawmakers lead us in the right direction.

    December 22, 2009 at 11:33 am |