Politics are personal. They have been immensely personal to me since I was 29. That was when, in the last year of acupuncture school, I found out I had a neurological autoimmune condition called myasthenia gravis and a tumor in my chest. I had a high-deductible Blue Shield plan at that time, since I really only went to the doctor once a year for a check-up and used herbs, food, and dance as my medicine. The surgery to remove the tumor cost me, in addition to my monthly premiums, copays, and lab or radiology fees, over $6000. Then, since the tumor was Stage II cancer, I needed 5 weeks of radiation, which also cost me over $6000 since that was in a different calendar year. And of course, I couldn’t work during this time, both recovering from chest surgery where they sawed through my sternum, and getting radiation in another city is like a full-time job. I lived rent-free that year, bouncing from my mom’s apartment, staying with my boyfriend, and finding house-sitting gigs. Since my overhead was relatively low, I could focus on studying for my board exam to become an acupuncturist. After going through all that, I felt like nothing could scare me, and certainly not the 5-hour acupuncture exam that felt like going through intense airport security into a massive room of jittery test-takers. I passed and started working that fall as an acupuncturist and herbalist.
As an acupuncturist who has taken insurance over the years, I can honestly say that with each passing year, it becomes more of a headache to bill and get reimbursed. This year, a middle-man organization called American Specialty Health came through Blue Shield. This organization makes billing such a hassle and reimbursement so poor, I can no longer treat most Blue Shield patients. I have a Blue Shield plan myself through Covered California and there are hardly any more acupuncture providers that will take my plan. I basically stopped taking my own plan! Talk about dissonance!!!! Acupuncture isn’t covered by Medicare and Medi-Cal reimburses so little, around here, only the acupuncture school takes it. The clients of the methadone clinic where my partner works mainly have Medi-Cal and instead of having ear acupuncture on-site, they go to the acupuncture school, and are mainly treated by students. Ear acupuncture is proven to help with detoxification and there is a protocol of 5 points in the ear that was designed in a hospital in New York to curb cravings and diminish stress. So much more benefit could be gained by making acupuncture available at more clinics and recovery centers, and have licensed professionals leading the ear acupuncture groups. Unfortunately and so obviously, the system is in a broken holding pattern. And people are still dying all the time, whether from lack of access to care, institutional racism, misogyny, suicide, or any combination of those forces. Care should be based on need, not some intermediary privately-owned company and their profits. Medicare for All would save billions of dollars a year, money that could be spent on the care itself.
Over the years, the recurring theme of stress for me has been my health. And it isn’t simply the fatigue, pain, and managing symptoms, medications, appointments, herbs, supplements, and anti-inflammatory foods. The root of the stress is wondering if my health issues will bankrupt me one day. As for student loans, I basically just pay the minimum amount each month, based on my income, and try to put those tens of thousands of dollars of debt out of my mind. What is worrisome is all the uncertainty that comes with increasing premiums with less coverage on top of having to add state disability insurance as a self-employed person, which is over $500 quarterly. It is so fortunate that I had state disability insurance a few years back, when a flare-up of the myasthenia gravis came back after almost 10 years. My muscles were so weak, I couldn’t pull my hair back in a ponytail, I couldn’t put my dishes away in the cupboard, my neck muscles strained to keep my head up while driving, and my eye muscles couldn’t prevent blurry vision, making it hard to drive at all for a time. I was off work for a few months, and then gradually started back part-time. What helped the most was rest and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) infusions to tell my antibodies they didn’t need to go bonkers and gum up the synapses between my nerves and muscles. I did these infusions 5 days in a row for 3 months, and at the end of the 5 days, had blinding and debilitating headaches, a sort of meningitis as a side-effect of the medication. I still do infusions every 7 weeks, just 1 day at home, and my nurse is the absolute best. The first infusions were in a hospital, so that bill was disproportionately high and that was the third time I had to go on a monthly payment plan to pay the bill off over a few years. Luckily, these home infusions, are only $45 each. I imagine they can keep their overhead low by not needing a facility, just an incredible nurse and the medication delivered to my door.
All this to say, having health issue is damn expensive and takes a lot of my mental energy, mental energy that I could be using for work, activism, self-care, and enjoying life. It gets especially taxing when I need authorization from Blue Shield before treatments recommended by my neurologist are covered. Or the concern and not knowing if a brain MRI, and ultrasound, or another CT scan will be covered this time since the fine print of my plan changes from year to year. I just don’t believe this stress should be added onto the chronic illness. I fully acknowledge that I am one of the more privileged ones, I come from a white family that has financial resources and I know I will always have a place to live, somewhere. I have been given access to the best schools in California due to redlining and racist realty practices.
So when Kendrick Sampson spoke at a very recent rally in San Antonio and asked us to think of the most vulnerable people in our lives, and know that we are all working together to uplift one another in community, I knew that I was all in with Bernie. I think about my nephew and niece. I want a better world for them. I don’t want them experiencing wildfires multiple times a year. I don’t want them being scared at school after lock-downs and active shooter drills. I don’t want them saddled with student debt the way me and my peers are. I don’t want anyone to worry and struggle like I have when faced with health issues. I don’t want anyone else to die from lack of medical attention. And I want our elders to have the support they need. I don’t want my mom to worry about housing as she ages. And I want my beloved city of Oakland to be able to house all of our residents. Living in one of the wealthiest regions of the entire world, the disconnect and discrepancy of wealth is so heart-wrenching. I know that the system is working the way the 1% have planned and schemed for centuries, since way before Nixon. AND, we all deserve better.
Another movement doing incredible organizing on the ground is the Poor People’s Campaign. They are continuing the work of Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.
To get an idea of where I am gathering loads of inspiration and updates, check out both Vote Save America (from Pod Save America), The Daily podcast and Fair Fight with Stacey Abrams. I also highly highly recommend this Rumble Episode with Michael Moore. What are some of your favorite resources? And what are some of the issues closest to your heart? Feel free to share your experiences in the comments section.
We got this!!!! Not Me. Us.