Beating the odds in basketball, cancer

Posted March 23, 2010, at 5:24 p.m.

You’ve got to love March Madness. The front page of Ohio State’s Web site yesterday proclaimed, “Evan Turner rebounded from a poor opening round performance to lead Ohio State into the Sweet 16. The Buckeyes bounced Georgia Tech 75-66 in a game where many thought the Yellow Jacket post players would dominate them.”

Monday, I became an Ohio State fan. They didn’t just battle the odds to beat favorite Georgia Tech’s basketball team, one of their cancer teams led by Dr. James Fowler of the university’s James Cancer Center beat the odds to keep a friend of mine in the game as well.

I wrote about her two weeks ago. She has cervical cancer and only one chance for life: pelvic exenteration. Wikipedia describes this procedure as the “radical surgical treatment that removes all organs from a person’s pelvic cavity.” As you can imagine, it’s brutally extreme and the only option left when a 41-year-old woman’s guts get riddled with cancer and her life expectancy is months instead of decades.

But after Monday’s surgery those fighting Buckeyes gave her a fighting chance. It’s a slimmer chance than any of us would like, but as March Madness fans know, a slim chance at victory is sometimes all you need.

There’s another reason that she has a chance to live: Medicaid. Thank goodness she’s poor. She wasn’t always poor. She got poor just in the nick of time. For years, she had owned her own business, and while she liked being independent, she never made enough money to provide health insurance for herself. And then like a gift from the gods, the economy crashed and she lost everything.

She had just taken a job as a shop clerk when she found out about her cancer. Imagine how lucky she felt when she realized that she qualified for Ohio’s Medicaid program. To receive benefits, an Ohio woman has to fit into a few categories. First, she has to be really poor, making only about two-thirds of the federal poverty level.

Additionally, according to the state of Ohio Web site, a poor woman without dependent children receives coverage only if she has either breast or cervical cancer.

She’s lucky she didn’t have a stroke, heart attack or lung cancer, because she wouldn’t have qualified for Medicaid. And even with the finest Buckeye surgeons within 150 miles of her house, her only appointment this year would be with the Grim Reaper.

If you’re wondering how this differs from Maine Medicaid laws, Maine makes special allowances for cervical and breast cancer as well. In fact, she could have earned four times the Ohio threshold and still qualified. But Maine helps poor childless adults in general regardless of their illnesses, so Maine’s way ahead of Ohio.

In Maine, it’s truly the lower middle class that is uninsured and runs the risk of dying without health care, like my friend would have if she had still owned her business.

But somehow even with this unequal access to treatment the Republicans stand against health care reform. They whine about “socialization” even as they voted over the last two years to bail out the wealthy.

The Democrats are only a little better. They passed health care “reform” on Sunday that doesn’t even allow us the option of buying into the medical plan that has financed this heroic effort to save my friend’s life.

No, the health care plan that passed without a public option and without a Medicare or Medicaid buy-in will put billions of taxpayer dollars into the pockets of the greedy culprits who broke our system in the first place: the insurance companies. In fact, the price tag for this new health care plan will be $2,764.71 each year for 10 years for each of the 30 million currently uninsured people. And remember, that’s an insurance premium not a health care payment.

My friend’s bills are paid by the taxpayers, because she’s lucky enough to be a poor Ohioan with cervical cancer. But because the insurance companies are Br’er Rabbits begging Congress not to throw them into the big bundle of money, the new health care “reform” won’t be providing folks with excellent health care; it will be making insurance companies wealthier.

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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