In the spirit of the season, I am grateful every day that I live and work in Maine in a community that thrives on integrity, friendship and love.
And I give thanks every day that I have my health. I have routine physicals, referrals to specialists and excellent care at my local medical center. I give thanks that, because of my work, I have health insurance that covers the cost of my medical care.
It was not always so.
My husband Frank and I were self-employed during the last years of our marriage and could not afford to buy health insurance. Like so many of our hardworking neighbors, we crossed our fingers that nothing would send us to the hospital for appointments, tests or pills we could not afford.
We looked into paying for our own health insurance, but paying $1,100 a month for the two of us was impossible. So we chose to go without. When self-employed family members talked about the high costs of premiums, we remained quiet. We did not want others, even our families, to know we could not afford insurance.
We did not go to doctors, and we never spoke about our health. When we caught colds, we drank orange juice and waited it out. We figured we could save money if we did not spend, say, $110 for a single visit to the doctor. Hoping our incomes would improve, we thought we were saving even more if we did not have to pay for prescription drugs.
We pressed our luck and took chances. One of us lost.
Nearly two years ago, my husband Frank lost a painful battle with pancreatic cancer. I miss him every day. His absence left a hole in my heart, a void in our community and in my world.
I cannot help but think that if he had gone to a doctor in the years before his diagnosis in 2010, he might be here with me today.
A doctor might have found indications that his blood counts were amiss from an emerging cancer. He or she probably would have admonished Frank about the red meat he ate every night and all that fried food he loved. Frank might have made lifestyle changes and gotten preventive care that could have stalled the progress of the cancer. And I would have had a few more years with my husband and best friend.
If only we had known that a visit to any one of the federally qualified health centers in Lubec, Eastport or Harrington was so affordable. If only we had known that with the sliding scale we could have paid as little as $15 for a doctor’s visit.
If only Frank had thought to ask, 40 years ago, about veterans benefits from his service in the U.S. Navy. His VA benefits did kick in after his diagnosis, and he received quality care in the last 14 months of his life that allowed him to die with dignity.
Mainers are so fortunate to have access to many quality medical professionals in our communities. But many independent-minded people, like my Frank, do not take the time to find out what is available. Sometimes they are afraid to seek medical attention because there might be something wrong they do not wish to know about.
Over Thanksgiving dinners last month, many families talked about the Affordable Care Act. Some complained about the insurance mandate and claimed they would rather pay the small penalty than have to get insurance coverage.
But the Affordable Care Act is about more than premiums and fines and fees. It is about personal responsibility. It is about everyone having a primary care physician. It is about preventive care. It is about not waiting until it is too late to take care of ourselves and our loved ones.
So when January comes, we will see the start of a new health care system in America. It will be the second anniversary of my husband’s death. It will be the date for my annual physical. It also will be the start of a new spirit of personal and community accountability across Maine and America.
Rep. Katherine Cassidy, D-Lubec, represents Cutler, Eastport, Lubec, Machias, Machiasport, Roque Bluffs, Trescott and Whiting in the Maine House of Representatives.