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February 01, 2011

The Least Among Us

*NOTE: Wonderful and generous readers have been writing to us all day asking how they can help, especially with Melissa's orphaned dog, Daisy. May we suggest in the most gentle way that those inclined make a donation to their local animal shelters because, unfortunately, there are many more Daisies out there who have lost their owners due to a crappy economy, financially strapped owners and death.

Daisy aside, Melissa's story is a call to arms - or, like Millenia Black says below - to the streets, "Egypt style." If you feel injustice, act. Here is a link to your U.S. Representative. Call him or her, email this blog and ask them what they plan to do to insure that no more Americans die because they couldn't afford to see a doctor.

 Thank you. The response has been overwhelming 

- Sarah*

https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml 

By Sarah

Over the weekend, we Tarts learned the shocking news that one of our most loyal backbloggers and friends, Melissa Mia Hall, aka MMH, had died suddenly and somewhat mysteriously.

Sad stories quickly spread. A writer, artist and longtime reviewer for such esteemed publications as CropMelfirehand Publishers Weekly, Melissa had been depressed over finances and the death of her sister years before. Most recently, her beloved dog, Daisy, had been sick and she had strained herself lifting her. It had been a bleak winter of worries and frustrations and fear. 

And then we learned the truth which turned out to be far worse, far more humbling, than our conjecture. Melissa died because she couldn't afford to see a doctor.

In light of a federal court judge's decision yesterday to overrule the Obama healthcare law, it's hard not to turn our thoughts to Melissa who, like most self-employed Americans, was responsible for acquiring and paying for her own health insurance - a luxury she simply couldn't afford. She knew she needed medical care, but feared a visit would result in a lengthy hospital stay that would "ruin her credit rating."

 Just a week ago, Melissa wrote Harley the following:

Right now really hurting. Hurt my chest/back last night lifting Daisy wrong...she's too heavy and I pulled muscles I guess. I thought at first I was having a heart attack it was so awful.

Tonight I'm really hurting still. Ibuprofen's not helping much. Using heating pad. It's been a long painful day and hard to concentrate on much. Why now?

Sigh...xoxoMM

The pain worsened and last Wednesday, just a few days before she would be found dead, she wrote in another email: 

This has been the worst day of my life for pain for the past two years, that's for sure.

Thanks for caring! Again, I felt pretty terrible all day but did three reviews. It was hard but it distracted me a little from the pain.

She was scared, not only for herself, but for Daisy, too. The best she could do was call the doctor and beg him for painkillers.  This was a work around Melissa had used before. Diagnosed with glaucoma, she had long stopped taking the expensive medication. She'd given up on new glasses which she also couldn't afford. And when she contracted strep last fall, she begged a doctor to call in a prescription for antibiotics over the phone, which he did - as he did with pain killers last week when she thought she'd hurt her back.

If she had seen the doctor, most likely he would have suspected more than a pulled muscle and would have ordered a life-saving EKG.

As Texas lawyer, writer and Melissa's friend, Laurie Moore, wrote to me, "She would've had a huge doctor bill she couldn't pay, and would probably have lost her house over it, but she would be alive instead of taking pain pills and dying in the night. "

In the end, Melissa didn't die from an overdose, not even an accidental one; Melissa died of the very heart attack she feared.

DSC00318-3 She was found in her house, alone except for Daisy who was whisked away to animal control for euthanasia. Daisy, whom Melissa would have fed before she fed herself,  would have been killed if it hadn't been for Laurie's chance encounter with an animal control officer. Now, Daisy is waiting to be treated for mange, but is considered adoptable. So her life will be saved.

*NOTE: Apparently, after factoring in Daisy's age, poor eyesight, underlying health issues and mange, Melissa's family decided to put her down. At least, she is out of pain, too.*

 Melissa worked hard. She owned a home. She paid her taxes (late, but paid). She was trying to live a dream - the American Dream - that supposedly we as citizens are promised - the right to pursue life, liberty and happiness. For her, that couldn't be achieved in a traditional job that came with the perks of health care. 

But does that mean she had to die?

How much would it cost us as a society to simply make preventative care available? We cannot, after all, pursue the lofty American dream without healthy bodies.

And, in a week when some talentless idiot like Charlie Sheen blows his $2 million/week salary on coke and hookers and ends up in the hospital, is it fair that Melissa Hall should lie suffering and in pain in the home she was afraid of losing by risking a trip to the emergency room?

It's worse than a Dickens novel.

Don't think we can afford to take care of those like Melissa? Then check out Vermont's Dr. Dynasaur program which provides affordable health care to those who need it most for a reasonable fee. And we're a relatively tax poor state, too.

Universal health care can be done. It must be done. Every one of us should have access to the same top-notch medical treatment enjoyed by those elected to represent us. John Boehner wouldn't think twice about seeing a doctor for chest pains, why not Melissa?

Today, in memory of Melissa or someone you know like her, please email or call your representatives and tell them not to back down in this fight. Tell them you want what he or she has, a quality health plan.

Because who the hell do you think's paying their premiums?

Sarah

 

 

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Comments

I never met Melissa, but I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. The circumstances are beyond words.

Very sad. How can we imagine that in a rich country in the XXI century people can die because they don’t have money to see the doctor? Such a horrible absurd, so cynical and unfair.

Oh Sarah, this is so awful - horrifying - that we can let this happen here. I am so sad that she is gone, and that for the lack of insurance - my god.

This is such a gut-wrenching story.

Take heart - other courts have either upheld the Constitutionality of the new Health Care law, or simply carved out the objectionable provisions, which have mainly to do with the mandated coverage requirement.

This issue is headed for the Supreme Court. In the interim, any action to change or repeal the law is stayed pending appeal.

If this were a political blog, I would ask questions like: "Certainly if Chief Justice Roberts can find a personal right to own assault weapons in the Constitution, there is room for him to allow for health care options." But I won't.

I didn't know your friend but she had to have been a very courageous woman. The story tore at my heart. I'm glad you had the courage to post it. The message needs to get out there.

This is so sad. Something must be done because it should not have happened.

I am so sorry to hear about your friend. And so sad she couldn't afford the care that might have saved her life.
Preventible medicine is the bastard child in the minds of so many insurance companies, who would rather cover the costs of the disease than the steps to prevent it (and then raise premiums because of that practice). Trips to convenient care or urgent care have dollar signs attached, but we've always been able to reach a payment agreement with the clinic. That's not always the case, I know. Still, the right to affordable (or even free) healthcare is important, because of Melissa, because of others who suffer every day. I am both angry and sad at this story and plan to remind my senators that this issue cannot die.

I'm so sorry to hear this - I'm teary-eyed reading about Melissa. It's hard for me to fathom that this happens in our country, to a hard-working member of society who is trying to do everything right.

I am the first to admit that I'm often quite stupid about politics. But I just cannot understand why a health care bill us such a bad thing.

Thanks for posting, Sarah. You can be sure I'll put my voice in the mix for health care in this country.

I wish I could take Daisy.

What the knee-jerking objectors to a universal health plan refuse to acknowledge is how much much money would be saved if one were adopted. Look how well it works in Vermont and Hawaii. For the rest of the country, the uninsured poor wait till they're so sick they have to go to a hospital emergency room, which costs taxpayers a heck of a lot more than if they'd had access to medical attention at the clinic level when the problem first arose. Melissa might still be with us if she could have seen a doctor in person without having to worry that she would lose her house. She should have had access to the level of care that her senators and representatives enjoy. Why is "socialized medicine" okay for them and not for us?

I'm so sorry for your loss. Thank you for prodding me to remind my representatives why universal healthcare is vital.

This is terribly sad. It is especially horrible to think of Ms. Hall dying alone and scared for herself and her dog.

When I hear people objecting to the healthcare reform bill, especially those who call it "Obamacare", I know that they either have employer-provided health insurance, or that they have employer-subsidized insurance.

What most don't realize is how many Americans are uninsured right now (nearly one fourth) solely because their employer could no longer afford to either provide or subsidize coverage, or because those Americans have lost their jobs altogether. The vast majority of us who have had to declare bankruptcy had to do so because of uninsured medical costs; perhaps they don't realize that fact. They also may not realize how many INSURED people have lost everything they own because of insurance companies' refusal to cover expensive health issues, for one trumped up reason or another.

In response to those who say that, since "Obamacare" was passed their insurance companies have raised their premiums, I say, "You haven't been paying attention." We have been self-employed for most of the last 33 years, and have paid for our own health insurance, every penny of it, since that time. EVERY year it goes up, some years as much as 40%. Since the healthcare reform bill was passed last year my insurance actually went down, and my husband's went up the least it has gone up since we first got it, 15 years ago. (He pays twice as much for his bare bones policy as we pay for our mortgage, in a 2800-square foot home).

Reform has LONG been necessary, and Obama was incredibly brave to buck the extremely powerful insurance lobby. They most emphatically did NOT want reform, of any kind, and the propaganda about the bill can be directly traced back to their lobby.

This makes my head spin. How terribly sad. And heartbreakingly avoidable. Thank you for sharing. How do we get people to hear this and understand? Off to call my rep.

I do have employer-subsidized health insurance, and I realize I'm lucky. That doesn't make me feel any less for what people like Melissa go through, and the choices they face that no one should have to face. I'm also grateful that we can still (at least for this year) have my daughter on our insurance, since she is 21, not in school, and only employed part-time right now.

I get very upset when unions go out on strike because they are being asked to pay a portion of their health insurance, and no longer get it for free. Join the real world, where most of us have had to pay at least a portion, if not all, of our premiums for years and years, and consider ourselves lucky to be able to do so.

Thanks, Sarah, for doing justice to this sad story. Melissa read our blog religiously, guest-blogged for us, and loved our books. She was funny, creative, and upbeat in the face of so many challenges. She turned everything in her life into a piece of art. I miss her.

Yeah, Laura, I think there's a compromise here. If we all chip in a little, we can make this work.
Of course, it might help if the health insurer CEOs didn't receive compensation in the millions.
http://www.boston.com/business/healthcare/articles/2009/02/28/blue_cross_ceos_pay_rose_26/

Sarah - A wonderful article about a good friend and person. I miss Melissa deeply and she is not alone. The very versatile writer and teacher Mike McQuay had the same story. He was feeling badly, had the pains in the chest. But, like Melissa (whom I believe he knew) he had no insurance and waited four days to schedule a Dr. Appointment. He died the night before the appointment. Such easte of great peo-ple and good talent.

Jeezum, Scott. Holy crap.
I'm sorry.

Sarah, what an awful ending to the story of a good person.
But I am very proud of you for your telling of it.
Were this a political blog, which of course it is not, I would ask why we fear our enemies so much more than we love our families and friends.

I read Melissa's story earlier this morning and it stopped me in my tracks. Since reading it, I have been sitting here stunned and heartbroken about a woman I did not know.

Melissa didn't need to die.

This, and other stories like hers, are just unacceptable. We all need to get mad as hell about it and try to do what we can to change it.

I've posted a link to The Lipstick Chronicles at my blog and have asked people to read Melissa's story and do as you've suggested. Call their representatives. I forwarded Melissa's story to mine.

Tarts - I am so so sorry for the loss of your friend.


Sarah, this has made me cry so hard. Thank you for writing it so beautifully. You honor Melissa's memory.

As an Australian, where we have had nationalised healthcare for years, I find this tragic and unfathomable. There is not a politician in this country who would want to (or dare to) dismantle it, and no one could consider this a "socialist" country given the stripe of our last couple of governments. I absolutely do not understand the fear and loathing that obstructs this vital and basic essential. My heart goes out to you.

Sarah in Canberra

We all knew Melissa. She came here every day. She was one of us, and I find myself wondering if there are others here who need the kind of help she did. It's easier to save a dog than a person.

Terrific article in The New Yorker (by the amazing Atul Gawande) that shows how preventative care for exactly the people who can't afford to buy insurance saves much more money than we assume:
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/01/24/110124fa_fact_gawande

You (correctly, IMO) called health insurance a "luxury" she could not afford. Here's the definition of luxury from the American Heritage Dictionary:

1. Something inessential but conducive to pleasure and comfort.
2. Something expensive or hard to obtain.

Neither of those should apply to seeing a doctor.

This situation is equally sad and enraging.

So very sorry to hear about the loss of Melissa and the terrible circumstances surrounding her passing. Reading your post, I'm filled with equal parts despair and anger... let's hope we can channel the anger into making change for good.

What a tragic, but oh so common story. As a paralegal, I work in healthcare law and understand how important it is that this country demand and stand behind healthcare reform. As a writer, this is a glaring example of why I keep the day job no matter how many books I write - great healthcare benefits.

This is really heartbreaking.

Thank you, Sarah, for making this information known.

Melissa told Harley on Monday that if the pain didn't get any better by Friday, she'd go to the doctor. I saw her Thursday night when I took food over. She appeared weak and exhausted. A doctor could've caught this at an office visit.

My crime scene detective friend said Melissa could've had other heart attacks many times before and not realized it. Sure enough, when I talked to some of her friends, they told me about a time last summer when Melissa came indoors after mowing her lawn (the size of a postage stamp) and told them she must've pulled something, that it felt like she was having a heart attack. She did not go to the doctor.

When she did see a doctor back in the spring after a fall in a parking lot, the unexpected costs financially wiped her out. She'd injured both ankles and had to borrow crutches from a friend to get around. The ankles never healed properly and there was some speculation that she had hairline fractures. This year, the day after her birthday, she attended my wedding with the aid of a cane.

To add insult to injury in this tragic occurrence, instead of leaving Daisy in the house overnight until cooler heads could decide what to do with her, a friend of Melissa's who didn't own pets made the decision to let the police contact animal control to impound Daisy; and the cat, Melissa's precious Colette Kitty, was turned out into the elements to fend for herself. Our winter storm arrived last night, probably not bad compared to what our East Coast friends experience(and Gaylin in Vancouver, and Karen in Ohio), but it's bad for Texas...now this poor house cat is out in the elements looking for food and water. Which could become a whole 'nother blog.

Then we could blog about what happens to what few things you do own once you're gone if you don't have a Will. Not to mention five days have passed and there's still no obituary in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. They give a small one for free, but Melissa once worked there so might deserve a more comprehensive one on the house? This whole thing just keeps getting more surreal by the day, so pardon my rant, but I'm frustrated. This didn't have to happen.

My heart is breaking for eveyone who knew Melissa. May she rest in peace ..

As for the healthcare discussion .. I'm totally in there with everyone else.... I am also a self employeed person who can't afford insurance .. especially now in this economy. I worry all the time that I might get sick .. germs are hard to avoid working with small children & infants. Its sad that in this day and age that I can get health insurance for my dog for $22 a month ... but can't find coverage for myself for less than $150 a month.

Laurie - You're the go-to person in all of this. You helped Melissa so, so much and you cared. We should all be so lucky to have friends like you.

I'm so sorry for your loss and the subsequent, justified frustrations.

Ramona - I guess I was trying to be ironic with the word luxury. To tell you the truth, I didn't think about the word because health insurance has become something like a luxury for so many.

Words fail......thank you for such a powerful tribute....we must wipe the tears and call our reps.
This should not happen.....ever.

Paula...call your U.S. Rep. Call your senator. Tell him or her YOUR story! And ask what he or she is going to do about your health insurance since you so kindly chip in for theirs.

Sarah, so well stated. I've known all this over the last days, and your words are so eloquent, I feel a new rush of indignation that someone who worked so hard, loved the world around, and was simply was just a fine person, should have been lost to a lack of medical treatment in OUR country--possibly the greatest power in the world. Yes! Congress is supposed to represent the people, therefore, congress and the people are one. Health care should be exactly the same for all the people, and we should have lost Melissa. Period.

I have no words to add beyond what has already been said. I am so sorry for the loss of this clearly remarkable woman and will do my best to spread this story. Sarah, thank you.

So very sorry for your loss. What a tragedy.

I am very sorry for your loss. May Melissa rest in Peace. A truly sad and tragic story.

I'm sorry for your loss -- and for all of our losses.

Beautiful, thoughtful post. This is such a powerful story about why we have to change things.

Thank you, Sarah. God speed, Melissa. And thank all the kind spirits in the world that saved Daisy.

Absolutely tragic, and needlessly so. It seems America is the land of dreams to those who have the funds to afford to dream. It is shameful and disgusting that so many are in this position (myself included if I end up moving back to the USA). So terribly sad to hear this news.

This is what I don't understand. The insurance companies will tolerate 'Obamacare' if EVERYONE signs on, because then their risks decrease with all the younger, healthier people in their plans.

Why doesn't the GOP recognize that this is good for BUSINESS?

I am very sorry to hear of Melissa's death. To know that she could have lived a longer, happier life if she had had access to decent medical care is - I just don't have the words to express how awful her situation is. It's everyone's worst nightmare.

I am fortunate enough to have employer-provided medical insurance. I wouldn't even care if I had to contribute towards it - at least I would still have the insurance. I have young nieces and nephews who have decent jobs but cannot afford health insurance. If one of them got into an accident on the way to work or had a bad case of pneumonia, etc, they wouldn't be able to afford the medical care. It scares me for them!

I'm from Canada, and always so stunned and saddened by stories like this. It's unfathomable that someone would have to worry about losing their home because of an illness.

Universal healthcare isn't perfect but it's humane. I can't understand the reasoning behind providing free health care to criminals and at the same time allowing people to die because they don't have a high income.

Why is it that a country can spend billions on aid to other countries -- while criticizing other governments for not caring for their citizens -- and yet sit on their hands when a American citizen is slowly and painfully dying from something preventable?

So, so sad.

Sarah, what a powerful post and tribute. Thank you for doing this, on behalf of everyone who can't afford to see a doctor.

Her cat was turned out of the house?! Oh, my god, the poor little thing! I hope the neighbors are on the lookout for her?

Laurie, you have moved heaven and earth to help that dog, and Harley you were willing to move them, too. You're both such great friends to Melissa.

I am so sorry.

I've had many arguments with people who think that if everyone had access to health care then people would be going to the doctor for every cough and cold. And I think, so what? If your cough is that bad, then you SHOULD go to a doctor.

And the same for pain.

I didn't know Melissa but, I will never forget her story. (I'm so upset -- I hope this comment makes sense)

Amen! It is especially ironic our elected officials benefit from superior health care that WE pay for. And they deny us. I really just don't get it.

I'm sorry for your friend's suffering and for the loss of your friend.

This is so sad to hear about, but unlike some others.. I am not at all surprised. I am a freelance writer as well and know exactly what it is to be unable to go to the doctor. Once went to the ER with chest pain, frightened for my life. Doctors said it was muscle contractions brought on by stress, and while I'm glad it wasn't heart trouble, I still haven't been able to pay the $2k-plus bill they sent me home with. I probably wouldn't go in if it happened again, quite honestly. So I feel for Melissa's situation, keenly, and hope it takes the blinders off for others in terms of what our health care situation really is like.

What a loss -- to Melissa's friends and to us. Thank you for telling Melissa's story.
And folks, if your representative voted against health care, send that hypocrit a form so they don't have to suck off the government with THEIR health insurance.
http://act.credoaction.com/fax/signup.html?cp_id=61

What a terrible thing to happen to such a lovely person. It was a right shocker to me to come to this country and pay a fortune each month for medical insurance when I used National Health back home in Australia. And how angry I was when a Blue Cross rep rang me and tried to scare me into giving back the money they'd approved and paid for my flu shot one year. I told him what I thought of him and his supervisor and hung up.

Melissa is such a tragedy. Thank you for sharing the news. It made me cry.

Let me add my most sincere thanks, Sarah. This should be allowed to happen.

I've linked to your post on my blog and my facebook page.

I only wish the Romney/Obama plan actually would provide healthcare affordably to all...as the state plans in Hawaii and perhaps Vermont (I used to live in Hawaii, and thus was aware of HMSA coverage) almost (but not quite) do. But instead we get half-measures and indeed the evil bastards of the insurance lobby fighting tooth and campaign contribution to remain as unencumbered and irresponsible as they are now...when the Romney/Obama model actually puts money in their bulging pockets.

I admired Hall's fiction, and am Very sorry for your loss (and in a less immediate way, all our loss)...but definitely for her loss, and that of those suffering as she did.

Not! This should not be allowed to happen. I was getting so upset, fumble-fingers took over my comment. Sorry.

I agree, Todd. The Obama thing is far from perfect and I am no fan of being forced to buy private insurance. Pisses me off.

Why Medicare couldn't have been extended to ev-er-y-body is beyond me. Then again, I know some extremely wealthy people who were able to see the top doctors and top medical facilities when they were diagnosed with cancer. Brilliant treatment and, of course, they're healthier than horses now.

Steve Jobs - not that I know him - is a good example. He received the kind of care and attention *and new liver* the rest of us will never see.

Moral of the story? Unless you're a multi millionaire, cross your fingers that you don't get sick.

Todd, the bill enacted is not what Obama wanted originally. The only way the GOP would allow it to pass is if they cut the heart out of it, and passed the wimpy version we now have.

Angela said: "Why is it that a country can spend billions on aid to other countries -- while criticizing other governments for not caring for their citizens -- and yet sit on their hands when a American citizen is slowly and painfully dying from something preventable?"

So, so true. It makes my heart hurt.

It's a terrible tragedy. Health Insurance should be affordable and available to everyone. We, too, had to make the choice years ago to not pickup health insurance. My husband was laid off, and I worked part time. It was very scarey. Luckily we had it weeks before my daughters appendix ruptured and she hospitalized for 2 weeks. How does it happend that Charlie Sheen has coke money and corporate VP's have more homes than they can live in....yet we, the people, can barely afford the essentials. Thank you Sarah. Like others said, very powerful!

Laurie, I am so sorry for your loss, for everyone's loss. Melissa deserved better than this.

I have never understood the rage against universal health care in the states. How is is bad or wrong? I don't get it. I am so fortunate to live in Canada where years ago a politician named Tommy Douglas made health care happen. Most employers cover part or all of the cost of health care because it just doesn't cost that much. In British Columbia: "From January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2010 monthly rates are $57.00 for one person, $102.00 for a family of two and $114.00 for a family of three or more. Effective January 1, 2011, monthly rates are $60.50 for one person, $109.00 for a family of two and $121.00 for a family of three or more."

If you live below the poverty line or are a senior the cost is halved.

I hope health care happens in the states so there will be no more stories like this.

By contrast, Gaylin, our two-person family's monthly premium (for very basic, high-deductible care, and no prescription coverage) is over $1,500 a month. We're lucky enough that we have not needed to use it much, and that we can afford it, but we give up a lot of other things so we can.

But I sure would not mind having that $18,000 a year, minus even a couple hundred bucks, in our pockets. I'd be thrilled to pay a couple hundred more a year in taxes, even.

I'm a retired teacher in MO and kept the insurance offered to teachers in my district until Medicare kicked in last month. I had to pay the premium ($531/month) but could keep the school insurance as long as I paid the premiums. Fortunately I could afford it, however, non-certificated retirees (secretaries, bus drivers, security)receive far less retirement and most have to continue working 2 or 3 jobs to keep the most basic coverage. MO teachers are in the PSRS and do not pay SS. I worked in college and taught summer school for many years to earn my SS/Medicare credits. My SS earnings will not cover the Part B premium so I have to pay B,D, and a supplement.

Since I cannot re-enroll in the school insurance plan I pray that no major changes will be made to Medicare or the Health Care Act. The MO legislature is trying to weaken our retirement system which would be a disaster. (This is the same legislature that exempted their offices at the Capitol from the state-wide smoking ban and I'm sure they won't touch their pensions.)

I have family members who work full time but cannot afford insurance, however, they make too much to get Medicaid. Catch-22. I'm sure people die every day in MO due to budget cuts that eliminated most Medicaid coverage. It is criminal.

Weather note: St. Louis is getting sleet with streets and sidewalks white with ice. If the sleet continues we will probably lose power. If it changes to snow soon we could get 15". I'm rooting for snow since I don't care to repeat the 6 days w/o power we had in '06.

Karen in Ohio - the cost of health care for you all is robbery. If I had to pay that much or even half that much, I wouldn't be eating.

In a heart breaking contrast:

I read this post this morning and was outraged but knowing that Melissa is only one of many with the same problem.

This afternoon we got an email from my husband's best friend growing up. In late summer he was diagnosed with an aggressive lung cancer; lesions also on the liver and brain. He was not expected to live to see Christmas. Recently his wife had to undergo her 8th or 9th spinal surgery.

Not only is she doing well but x-rays, mri's and other tests show no trace of cancer in Richard now. They'll have home health care while they recuperate.

Are they rich? No. Solidly middle class. Their care hasn't cost them anything. Why? They live in that evil, 'socialist' country known as Holland.

I'm not one to usually envy others what they have, but I envy what our friends and family in Holland when it comes to their health. They'll never have to make the decisions of having a place to live or going to a doctor. I envy that.

How terribly sad. Thank you Sarah, for sharing it so eloquently. Hopefully doing so will allow Melissa's tragic death to make a difference by moving us to action. What an awful loss.

Very sad. I'm glad you wrote an enlightening article on the subject because lack of insurance affects so many people, and these horrid end-results are the consquence of such.

This is such a tragedy. So sorry for your loss.

To honor your friend and her love for her four legged family, is there somewhere to donate for their care?

I'm so, so sorry to hear this heart-breaking story, and I'm sorry, MMH, that your worst fears took you out of this world after so much unfair and preventable fear and suffering.
Harley, Laurie, Sarah and others who knew and loved and helped MMH, thank you for your kindness and compassion to her, and to all of us.
I'm in the ironic position of paying over $400/mo. for bare minimum, high deductible, health insurance coverage that ISN'T ACCEPTED by the majority of the health and dental care providers in my area . . . go figure! Additionally, the most effective care that I seek and obtain marvelous results from: acupuncture, herbal medicine, homeopathy, and chiropractic, are not covered by my policy, and the riders required to obtain coverage are way beyond my financial reach.

As a practitioner of a natural, low-tech, and effective form of healthcare in acupuncture/Traditional Chinese Medicine, I find so much of this country's crazy approach to healthcare astounding.
Yesterday, I heard from one of my existing patients who is having a completely avoidable surgery next week (that will end up costing tens of thousands of dollars, post-insurance payments) because it is 'covered' by insurance, while a few weeks of care with me, which is not covered, would have resolved the condition without surgery. I'm sorry, but what kind of sense does that make?
I'll be helping another individual recover from the traumatic and life-long results of another completely avoidable surgery, again, because insurance sort of covered some of the costs of surgery but wouldn't cover the cost of a series of visits with me.

Cut the provision of health insurance for any lawmaker who has over $300,000 a year income or similar resources--at least until they get the picture, and keep the nimrods from gutting or destroying what progress we've made in providing baby steps towards reasonable health care in the U.S.

Henry Waxman is totally my hero. Just sayin'.

Sarah, Thank you for your post today. It made me cry. It made me scream.

As a Massachusetts resident, I know many people who have been helped by our "free" Mass Health system, which is available to those who cannot afford insurance. The rest of us pay for ours, at varying rates.

When I was in my late twenties and between jobs (pre Cobra), I had a sledding accident and broke my ankle in several places. I had no insurance. I had it set, but the bills were going to take me a long time to pay. I might have made it until we discovered that I had also cracked a vertebrae in my back. A year later, one of the bones in my ankle had not healed, and, still in my wheelchair, I was hooked up to a very expensive machine that helped the bones fuse. Financial ruin was devastating, but I was young and didn't yet own property I could lose. The depression that followed was much worse. I'm okay now, but I was lucky.

By the way, I heard a quote years ago that I'm sure is still true: the average person will spend the great majority of their healthcare dollars in the final year of their life.
If we would only find a way to provide reasonable care at equitable cost, that final year would be years later in a healthy life, and even the cost of the final year would be lesser, because it wouldn't be the train wreck of neglect and disaster so many people encounter after years of scrimping on what could have been wellness and preventable care visits.

Laraine, that's a good point, about health insurance companies not covering certain kinds of care. This, to me, is another WTF? moment. Acupuncture totally cured a back problem I had had for over 35 years, with a SINGLE treatment. I am finally sleeping soundly almost every night, after 20+ years of chronic insomnia so devastating that I was only sleeping 2-3 hours a night, and most of that after 5 AM. Chiropractic treatment, and education/self-care by my chiropractor, kept me from needing surgery for carpal tunnel and for not one, but two frozen shoulder injuries.

Both acupuncture and chiropractic are non-invasive, non-drug treatments, yet we are almost forced to accept more invasive and drug-laden solutions many times, often that cause more problems than the original one they were meant to "cure". I don't get why the big corporate entities--insurance and drug companies, and giant hospital complexes--are more important than American citizens and their health. It makes no sense at all.

This is a sad, and terrible story. I can only echo what all of you said. I'm so sorry for the loss of a lovely lady, and I'm filled with anger at the Republicans, who really don't care about the have nots. Life should not be filled with these awful choices.

I will join the other voices raised today in outrage that a woman died because she feared losing her home. Why is it easier for her to die and for her dog to be killed than to pay for her doctor visit? What makes that OK? Can my representatives explain that to me?

The selfishness of people who say "Well, insurance is available to anyone who's willing to pay for it" makes me want to see them laid off for a couple years and start choosing between mortgage payments, utilities, food, and insurance and see just how much wiser they might become.

Health care for all is the least a civilized nation would do. Part-time workers among friends and family have no chance for coverage. My brother only received pain meds (his preference anyway, didn't want aggressive treatment). Even so, the hospital keeps sending bills for thousands of dollars, even though he told them from the start he had no money, his job at Emerson having been sent to Mexico several years ago. When I watched _Sicko_ I was so angry -- now even more so.

Melissa's story is so sad. And so common. And I'm furious. I think every member of Congress should be required to seek and pay for their own private health insurance before they even ATTEMPT to discuss and vote on ours. They have no idea of the cost or difficulty to attain private insurance. This is a subject that can't be intellectualized - it demands real compassion.

Thank you for printing Melissa's story.

I'm so sorry for your loss. I, too, have lost friends who would still be here if they had had the means to obtain medical care. Here, on the border of Oregon and California, the injustice of the medical care system in this country is in one's face every day. One contrast of the inequity of the situation comes to mind. One woman in her mid fifties worked for less than ten years in her late twenties-early thirties. She managed to get on SSI because of depression. She qualified for medical and has had two heart operations. Another woman in her mid fifties has worked all her life. She now runs a second hand store, pays taxes, and pays into social security. She doesn't have enough income to buy insurance and she has a heart condition that could easily be fixed by an operation at a cost of $20,000. She lives in Oregon. The Oregon Health Plan, designed to help low income people by providing health insurance, is so overburdened that there is now a lottery system in which a certain amount of names are drawn every so ofter and the lucky winners get into the plan. She has not been lucky and could very well die waiting to be lucky. The Oregon system does not consider immediate medical need in its drawing of names; it is entirely dependent on luck. So someone with minimal investment in the system is saved, and someone who has always contributed may be lost. I'm not an advocate for discontinuing medical treatment for those on disability, but the working poor should not be discarded when they are contributing to the system that saves those who are not. Single payer is the only system that would solve these inequities.

Because of the s l o w l y evolving state of healthcare here, I continue to advocate for two things: universal coverage, and choice. That is to say, everyone should have access to health insurance and preventative healthcare; but, each individual should be able to select the modality of care that they find most effective--the patients I spoke of earlier ought to have had access to comparative information:
surgery and follow-up: $xx,000 for x results and x side-effects;
acupuncture (or chiropractor, physical therapy, etc.) treatment and follow-up: $x,000 for x results and no side-effects.

WTH?! Enough is enough. I say it's time the uninsured and (under-insured) take to the streets Egypt-style and DEMAND change in this ridiculous FOR-PROFIT health care system. There is great strength in numbers and those who are against it, are in the minority. Drown them out the way they've been drowning you out for decades!

It's beyond time. Stop talking. Let's ACT.

I lost my job in 2008 and didn't get back to full-time employment until late 2010. Though I was better off than many, because my husband was employed and I could get on his insurance, I still stopped getting all my preventive care for those 2 years because when the family income is cut in half, even the co-pays and deductibles come straight from money that would otherwise pay the mortgage. Thank God our story didn't end like poor Melissa's, but I have a keen sense of "there but for the grace of God...."

I observe, BTW, that people raised with old-fashioned values, who consider it a moral failing to miss a mortgage payment or otherwise not pay a debt, are the ones most likely to ruin their health. Because health care is largely discretionary. And however short-sighted it seems, in that moment of definitely missing a payment or maybe hurting your health, it's hard not to see it that way.

Sorry to hear about Melissa. Shouldn't have happened.
However, she could have visited the hospital and indicated how bad her body was doing. They would have treated her, even if she didn't have the money.

They would have treated her, Sandi.
And they would have sent a bill.
That's what Melissa was afraid of.

Amen, Millenia!

This is a tragic awful story, and unfortunately too common. Right now I pay an outrageous amount for health insurance. I pay this amount because I could not afford insurance for about 3 years for myself and children and was diagnosed with cervical cancer. Now it is a necessity to cover all of my procedures, but with the premiums and co-pays it is devastating.

I am also in a different position looking at the health care reform laws. I have been to multiple informational courses, and have had it explained multiple times, and am always left scratching my head wondering what is wrong with our government. We DO need to make sure EVERYONE can afford health care and that EVERYONE gets the treatment they need and deserve, but this bill has so many holes and in the long run will cost so much more money to middle class Americans. The government needs to work together to correct the problems with the bill, not fight between each other between of their parties. Stories like this should not happen anymore. There is no reason someone has to suffer. It breaks my heart.

Stacey - You've done what I should have - checked out that health care bill. I'm sure it's full of holes.

Honestly, it seems so simple, so humane, so civilized and FRUGAL to provide health care. Why is it so complicated?

Oh, this makes my heart ache -- and my blood boil. What a terrible, senseless loss. Thank you for sharing Melissa's story.

Turns out Melissa was a hero. Look at what she's accomplished. I'm in awe...and honoring her.

(And you too, Sarah--thank you.)

As a tribute to Melissa, I'd like to encourage everyone who has posted here today to share this blog and its comments. Share with your friends and your family, and ask them to share it with their friends and family.

AND with your representatives.

It is, after all, "supposed" to be "government of the people, by the people and for the people." NOT just the peoples' representatives.

We do deserve the same quality health coverage they have. Obviously, many of them disagree. Will they continue to disagree if huge numbers of us demand what's right?

So sad and so scary. How can this happen in what was the strongest of countries on Earth? Billions go overseas to those that hate us and nothing for us. Where is the justice?

I just sent a message (including the blog link) to my representative. It's time for people to let our reps know we're mad as Hell and we're not going to take it anymore!!!

I don't know which I feel more--sadness, or anger. What a terrible story. I'm so sorry about your friend.

Melissa's story is tragic. However, you need to research the health insurance bill more closely. Unless Melissa qualifies for Medicaid, the bill requires that she pay in the range of 7.5-9.5% of her adjusted gross income for premiums. This would cover an insurance plan with $1500 deductible. She never would have been able to afford that.

This health INSURANCE fiasco law would not have helped Melissa.

This is a touching eulogy but I have to say someone didn't know Melissa's history as well as did, you see, I am her Sister and she has NO twin sister, her younger sister died 7 years ago of a brain anyurism.
Unfortunaely, Sweet Daisy was found to be so ill she was sent to be with her Mama Melissa. She was 13 years old.

Thank you for sharing this story.

I think that its sad that someone thought a better choice was death rather than going to an emergency room to be treated. If she truly could not afford the necessary treatment there is help available and no hospital would have refused her treatment! What good is her credit rating to her now? It truly sad that she passed away but at what point do you have to look at the personal responsibility of the individual to get necessary care? I find it interesting that John Boehner was singled out as not thinking twice before seeking care for chest pains. Would Nancy Pelosi? Harry Reid? Orrin Hatch? Barbara Boxer? Diane Feinstein? Tom Harkin? Jim DeMint, Chuck Schumer? Joe Leiberman? Richard Lugar?....... NO! None of these individuals should think twice about seeing a doctor when necessary and you shouldn't either.

My sister is in the same boat. She contracted Lyme disease, and while she had health insurance, went to numerous doctors over a period of several years without being correctly diagnosed. Finally, after a lot of research, she diagnosed her own problem and saw a specialist and had to undergo a year of antibiotic treatment.

The disease, however, has left her unable to work a full time job, so she has lost her insurance and now does not carry it because she can't afford it. She used to live in Norway, where at least there, someone wouldn't fall to the same fate as Melissa.

Michele - I stand corrected and will correct the blog....I'm puzzled as to how I screwed this up.

And, are you confirming that Daisy is dead?

Massachusetts has universal health care. The average premium has gone down by 40%.
Thanks so much for posting this. Melissa could have been so many of us. I have health insurance but it went up 80% since 12/09 so I now have catastrophic insurance only. It makes me feel as if I have failed somehow.

I see Boehner's red face and I think "chest pains," John.

I did not know Melissa, but am so sorry for her loss. This shouldn't have happened.

Just saw where this made the HuffPo, and read "wochi's" comment: "It's pure speculatio­n that she would have lost her house due to medical bills that would have been incurred."

No "speculation" to it. The house had back taxes that needed to be paid, she was on a payment plan, and the 2010 taxes were due Monday, January 31st. She was scared to death about losing the house. Easy for "wochi" to toss that comment out there without having any back story, and without knowing Melissa.

Thank you, Laurie. I bet you're one kick-ass lawyer.

I have to respond to John above. "John Boehner was singled out as not thinking twice before seeking care for chest pains. Would Nancy Pelosi? Harry Reid? Orrin Hatch? Barbara Boxer? Diane Feinstein? Tom Harkin? Jim DeMint, Chuck Schumer? Joe Leiberman? Richard Lugar?...."

Of all these, which one voted against a decent health plan for the rest of us? Which one is the hypocrit?

I am truly sorry for the loss of such a special person. While I agree that the current healthcare situation in our country is in need of some reform, it took me less than 10 minutes to find over 30 free clinics within 50 miles of MMH's home in Texas. You can certainly write to your representative to support legislation that will probably never pass or you could volunteer your time and if possible, your money to your local free clinic. Hate to be against the grain here. I am I the only non-liberal that reads this site every day?

You know - it's all so easy to sit back and say what Melissa could have/should have done. The fact of the matter is, the woman is dead. She's no longer with us because she was scared. Sick and scared. I'm sorry, but I don't think liberal or conservative has a thing to do with it. NO one in a THIS country should be SO scared of losing their home because they think they can't afford health care. And as far as hospitals treating you IF you're sick and will not turn you away. Bull Shit. It happens. AND as far as this comment about Boehner being singled out? Ditto what Margaret said.
And one more thing. I am for better health care for this country. I don't give a diddly damn whose name is attached to it. I don't CARE if it's written by the Democrats or the Republicans or some guy wearing a tux who just got off a spaceship from Venus. THIS IS NOT RIGHT!

Brava, Kaye. Well said.

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