Insurance nightmares revealed at Medicare for All town hall

Supporters detail deaths, financial drain caused by private insurers

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NEW LENOX – Wendy Schuster of Joliet told how her 38-year-old cousin bled to death from a hernia because his insurance company refused to pay for surgery to repair it as "not medically necessary."

Crest Hill resident Frank Rasmussen told how they couldn’t afford the $4,100 per month for health insurance after his wife got sick, and ultimately, she died for lack of access to health care.

Schuster and Rasmussen were among 25 people who attended a Medicare for All town hall Nov. 9, and shared their experiences with private, for-profit health insurers. The town hall was hosted in New Lenox by Democratic primary hopefuls Rachel Ventura and Robert Emmons Jr., according to a news release.

Beth Rice, and Medicare for All activist Bill Bianchi moderated the town hall, and Bianchi also shared a 25-minute presentation.

Joliet resident Ventura, a member of the Will County Board, will be running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, in a Democratic primary on March 17, 2020.

Similarly, Evanston resident Emmons will be running against incumbent U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Chicago, in the Democratic primary.

In her comments at the town hall, Schuster also said that she was paying close to $20,000 a year in out-of-pocket health care expenses, but her real concern was the Oct. 22 death of her cousin, Nick.

After insurance would not pay for a hernia operation, Nick went home sick and started bleeding. Though he tried to control it with towels and sheets, he bled to death anyway, his body discovered in his home 48 hours later, Schuster stated in the release.

As a veteran, Rasmussen said he was eligible for care through the VA, a 100% government funded, government-run system that he described as, “excellent.”

His late wife, Lois, died at age 65 in 2013 of congestive heart failure, Rasmussen said in a telephone interview.

An autopsy showed she also had blood clots.

"She would be alive today if she had the same health cover coverage I did through the VA," Rasmussen said.

Janet Diaz, also of Joliet, said that she was angry at the health care industry.

As a certified nursing assistant, Diaz worked at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox and had excellent health insurance.

Diaz said she was injured at work and the insurance companies passed the buck back and forth between the workers compensation insurance company and her Blue Cross-Blue Shield insurance plan, according to the release.

In the end, Diaz got stuck with nearly $250,000 in medical bills.

She had to quit-claim deed her home to her parents to protect her home, according to the release.

“We need our Senators and our Congressmen to have the same insurance that we have, and the same insurance that the homeless guy down the street has,” Diaz stated in the release. “And until that happens, we are not going to get the good health care that we need. Medicare for All is the only way to go. Medicare for most does not cut it.”

Mike O’Connell, a union electrician from Aurora, described himself as a cancer survivor who had to use his “Cadillac insurance” plan, the release stated.

Even though he had depended on his insurance, O’Connell did not agree with the AFL-CIO messaging that union members prefer private insurance over Medicare for all.

Over 28% of his paycheck goes to pay for health care costs, including $24,000 per year to private insurance companies, O'Connell stated in the release.

O’Connell said that an improved Medicare for All system would only cost $8,200 per year.

“Medicare for All would let me put $19,097 more in my pocket every year,” O’Connell stated in the release.

Both Emmons and Ventura reacted to the stories and presentation after the event.

“No American should make a decision between going bankrupt or dying with 643,000 Americans going bankrupt every year, and the stories shared today are proof that the current healthcare structure doesn’t work,” Emmons stated in the release. “Each of our speakers highlighted the consequences of living without universal coverage, and why we so badly need Medicare for All — nothing else will cut it. Medicare-for-All, period.”

Ventura responded, saying, “These stories are so tragic.”

“I feel like America is becoming numb to these tragedies, and they are becoming the norm,” Ventura stated in the release.

“What is even more tragic is that the solution is right in front of us – improved, expanded Medicare for All. We have the money to change and we will save money when we do,” Ventura stated in the release. “What we cannot afford is our broken system, where we allow wealthy donors and corporate interests to dictate the quality of life, or life itself, to everyone else.”