My husband’s near-death experience shows why access to heath care in essential 

Last year my husband almost died. He had blood clots in a leg that lodged in both of his lungs. That limited his air flow and put stress on his heart.

The doctors and nurses in the emergency room said he was lucky he came in and that he probably would have been dead if he had waited an hour. We heard the same during the two days he was in intensive care and in the next seven days he was in the hospital. That’s what an emergency doctor he knows said, too, adding that nearly all the people brought in who suddenly dropped dead did so because of a heart attack or pulmonary embolism.

Last year when I wrote about this, I told you that my husband said that he wouldn’t have gone in if he hadn’t had health insurance. The symptoms were not that awful and he would have just tried to tough them out. Instead he went to walk-in care and they sent him to the hospital.

Mainers for Health Care rally outside the State House prior to Gov. Paul LePage’s State of the State address in February. The coalition that supported the successful campaign to expand Medicaid in 2017 say LePage and his allies in the Legislature are trying to block Medicaid expansion, which is now state law. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

But that’s not what this column is about. It’s about what happened later and why that matters.

Besides having to regain his strength so he could resume his physically taxing small business, which involves cabinet making, design and remodeling, he’s had to take blood thinners.

People who take blood thinners, if they’re taking the most common one, have to be monitored to make sure their blood is not too thick or too thin. Thus, he’s had to go to the Anticoagulation Clinic in Bangor on a regular basis. This is, by the way, a great facility with wonderful doctors and nurses.

Based on what the hematologists say, he probably has to keep taking the blood thinners for the rest of his life. If he stopped taking them, he’d have a one-in-three chance of getting another blood clot and that could kill him. That means he has to keep taking the medicine and keep getting monitored.

Given what the clots did to his body, my husband has to see all sorts of doctors and get all kinds of scans and tests. Some of the clots will probably never go away. Given that and the fact that a previous blood clot is a risk factor for a future one, if he wants to repair his torn rotator cuff, that would be more dangerous than it would be for people without a history of blood clots.

And all that brings me to why I’m writing again about the father of my children, my partner and sweetheart. What happened to him says an awful lot about our healthcare system.

His story shows you can’t get all necessary care in an emergency room. People who claim everyone already has access to health care often cite emergency services as being enough. But after people survive a severe illnesses or accidents, they need medicine, diagnostic procedures and consultations with specialists. Without health insurance, care will either be diminished or absent or lead to massive bills.

Not getting follow-up care kills people. That’s why I find a lack of health coverage for all unethical. As the Talmud teaches, “Whoever saves one person saves the world entire.” It’s also poor public policy, creating social and economic costs that affect everyone.

And so it’s troubling what’s happened to health care in the United States. In 2017, the uninsured rate among working adults surged, with 4 million people losing coverage nationwide, a reverse of coverage gains from Obamacare. The increase especially hit states that didn’t expand Medicaid, which now have nearly 22 percent of their populations without coverage.

That damage didn’t happen by accident. Policies adopted by the Trump administration have undermined the healthcare system, raising rates for individuals and small businesses. Gov. Paul LePage has blocked Medicaid expansion in Maine although Maine people strongly support it, keeping 70,000 people from getting coverage. Last week, Trump abandoned a campaign promise to have Medicare negotiate prescription drug costs and proposed cutting the Children’s Health Insurance Program by $7 billion.

All of that will hurt many people and families. Each deserves the same dignity and care my husband received. Our political choices — our votes and our voices — will affect whether and what they get.


Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.