The Supreme Court's landmark ruling on health-care reform is just the start of a larger task.
As a physician, I am happy that as a result of the Supreme Court's decision regarding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) many Americans who currently live without insurance will gain access to health coverage and the life-saving care that comes with it. At the same time, I am still haunted by the story of someone who didn't live to see this milestone.
I am thinking of a woman named Sheila Wessenberg, who was profiled in a book the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported several years ago, Denied: The Crisis of America's Uninsured. Sheila was a typical mom living in Texas until she was diagnosed with breast cancer. While her husband was employed, she was able to get the care she needed. But once he lost his job, they couldn't afford insurance through COBRA. Yet Sheila didn't qualify for Medicaid. Looking at the options, she decided to forgo insurance all together. There simply wasn't enough money to meet all of her family's needs.
With medical bills adding to other debt, Sheila did whatever it took to survive. She had no other choice but to beg for money. She even resorted to panhandling and, at times, leaving her son with autism unattended in her car while she worked part-time jobs. In the end, instead of adding to her debt, she gave up on the ongoing treatment she needed. She eventually died of breast cancer.