The woman I call my wife and I aren't married. Blame it on procrastination and the fact that we both had bitter divorces. When I met Wendy nearly 23 years ago, I had two sons and Wendy had a year-old baby girl. I soon proposed to her and we have been engaged for over 22 years. We had two more kids together and now have five fabulous adult children. We used to joke that someday we would get married in Las Vegas by Elvis, but despite several visits there, it never happened. Seven years ago, the fact that we weren't married saved Wendy's life.
I commercially fished for salmon and Wendy cooked professionally. Commercial fishing and processing is Alaska's largest employer and thousands of Alaskans work in restaurants. Neither profession generally supplies health insurance. When we need stitches, have a fever or break a bone, we go to "urgent care" and pay cash. In 2006, we had no family physician, so when Wendy started feeling exhausted and had unexplained pain, she put off seeking help until her symptoms were unbearable (please don't repeat her mistake). After selling our RV and spending $30,000 on doctors and tests, we learned she had stage 4 lymphoma cancer. There is no stage 5.
She endured three types of chemotherapy, six sessions each, all unsuccessful. She ended up having a stem-cell transplant in Seattle that saved her life.
Thankfully, she has been cancer-free for over six years now.
We are so thankful that the medical profession has learned to treat Wendy's cancer. The problem is, how would we pay? At the time, the treatment she received was "experimental." Even if we had had health insurance, it probably would not have paid. Let me stress that no average family, insured or not, could withstand the financial burden this sort of crisis could bring to anyone, even you.
Because we weren't married, the federal government considered Wendy to be a single mother, thus qualifying her for Medicaid. Without the government's help, we would have certainly lost the house that has been our home for three generations. Bankruptcy would have certainly followed. Our kids would not have been able to afford college (Two of our kids have degrees and the other three are on their way). Three generations of wealth accumulation (our mortgage-free home) would have vanished.
The physical and emotional stress of having a cancer patient in the family is almost unbearable. The financial stress of not being able to pay is more than most can withstand. We will forever be thankful for the godsend of Medicaid. It is not an exaggeration to say that the federal government saved our family.
Our governor, Sean Parnell, now has the opportunity to expand Medicaid coverage for up to 40,000 additional Alaskans who might need the same help that saved our family. So far he has refused -- just so our president can't get credit for helping families like ours.
According to the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, expanding Medicaid would bring $1 billion to Alaska and create 4,000 new jobs over the next 7 years. Turning down the federal government's offer to pay 100 percent of the costs for three years and at least 90 percent in perpetuity must have former Sen. Ted Stevens spinning in his grave. It is a mean-spirited and shortsighted policy for our great state.
According to the Miami Herald, 44,000 Americans die annually due to the lack of health insurance. In addition, untold thousands of uninsured have negative outcomes -- for example, a diabetes patient who goes untreated and loses a leg.
So my question to Gov. Parnell is:
How many Alaskan lives and limbs is it OK to lose to show you will stop at nothing to oppose President Obama? 100? 500? 1,000?
The cost of Gov. Parnell's refusal to expand Medicaid is too high. Does any Alaskan voter think that it's OK for hundreds of Alaskans to suffer so he can burnish his bona fides with ultra-conservatives? Is he the real death panel?
John A. Farleigh is a former commercial fisherman. He lives in Anchorage.
By JOHN A. FARLEIGH