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Greenville Business Magazine

Dialysis to Despair: From Richard Nixon to Graham-Cassidy

Sep 25, 2017 09:47AM ● By Emily Stevenson

By John Jeter

Last July, I celebrated an unusual milestone: the 33rd anniversary of the day my brother, Stephen, gave me one of his kidneys. Miracles like those are pretty commonplace these days, but what makes this one special—to me, anyway—is that “at least” 57 people in the world have survived that long with a donated kidney, according to national data.

I’m just a number. Do those we elect to serve care about statistics? Does our Sen. Lindsay Graham care about at least one of his constituents? Richard Nixon did.

As of this writing, I know as much as anyone else does about the Graham-Cassidy proposal to abolish the Affordable Care Act. As of late September, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office hadn’t yet scored the bill. Will 22 million or 60 million people be affected by a measure that also wallops one-sixth of the U.S. economy? One thing I do know is that Nixon showed more compassion my senator does now.

On Oct. 20, 1972, when I was 12 years old, Nixon signed H.R. 1 into law. The law automatically qualified anyone with chronic renal disease, anyone who would need a kidney transplant, for Medicare, regardless of age. That meant, as soon as I started dialysis—a truly heinous lifestyle situation—I qualified to have my life extended past my age at the time, 24, without becoming bankrupt.

The day he signed the new law, Nixon wrote:

“I am highly gratified to be able, at long last, to put my signature on H.R. 1—thus lifting these long-sought benefits out of debate and placing them into the laws of our generous and compassionate land.”

Two years later, Nixon resigned.

Now, all of it—health insurance, that kind of empathy—appears to be going the way of Nixon.

That’s terrifying. To me, anyway, and it should be terrifying to anyone else with a life-threatening illness, a family with any health issues, and anyone with a pre-existing condition. It’s impossible to determine, exactly, who wouldn’t be among that group of South Carolinians. And yet, our senator appears determined to ensure that we’re uninsurable.

If I lose access to affordable health insurance, I’m a dead man. When I’ve written about this before, critics have said, “You’re a deadbeat taker.” I ran my own business for 20 years—The Handlebar. We paid 18 different taxes, employed as many as two dozen people, had a multi-million economic impact on our city, not to mention a cultural boon. Today, I’m a freelance writer, a contract stringer for THE NEW YORK TIMES, and an adjunct professor at Converse College. That is, I’m self-employed. I pay taxes.

I have a pre-existing condition, no access to a group health policy. And, soon, evidently, no access to any insurance at all—if my senator and his supporters have their way.

Let’s go back to 1971, just before Nixon signed a bill that saved the lives of how-many-thousands of Americans.

On Nov. 4, that year, a New Yorker named Shep Glazer appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee. Not unusual, except that he got himself hooked up to a kidney-dialysis machine. A gruesome contraption that takes all the blood out of your body, cleanses it, and tubes it back in, the artificial kidney isn’t pretty to watch. But the macabre display made its point, as did Glazer, whose statement read:

“I am 43 years old, married for 20 years, with two children ages 14 and 10. I was a salesman until a couple of months ago until it became necessary for me to supplement my income to pay for the dialysis supplies. I tried to sell a non-competitive line, was found out, and was fired. Gentlemen, what should I do? End it all and die? Sell my house for which I worked so hard, and go on welfare? Should I go into the hospital under my hospitalization policy, then I cannot work? Please tell me. If your kidneys failed tomorrow, wouldn't you want the opportunity to live? Wouldn't you want to see your children grow up?”

I don’t know what happened to Mr. Glazer any more than what I know today what’s going to happen with health insurance under this current administration. While I would never want to return to the agony of dialysis, living under this kind of fear is just as draining as having your blood taken out three times a week.

Maybe none of this affects you. Maybe you think I’m a hysterical ninny who just wants to take from you, my fellow taxpayer (the way Graham-Cassidy, ironically, takes Medicaid funds from blue states and block-grants them to states like ours). Maybe you think I’m a number. That’s all good. You’re entitled to your opinion. You’re also entitled to a miracle, because life and all its unforeseen tragedies happen, and we all could use a miracle every now and again: the way neighbors miraculously appear out of the floods to help neighbors in a hurricane.

I’m just hoping for another miracle. But right now, I’m worried sick.