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June 18, 2014

ANDERSON: Health care equals human dignity

— When you feel good, you can conquer worlds. It is that simple.

Health is something we take for granted when we are young and crave as we age. The older I get, the more I remember my mother telling me to “get outside and play, you need sunshine and warmth.” A body doesn’t do well without it, she would say.

So, we would oblige, all seven of us. Outside all day, running, playing, jumping all over the place. I was 16 before I figured out it wasn’t a good thing to be the fastest runner in the game of kissing catchers.

I would love to run like that again. So would many others, but their health won’t allow for that. Many people can’t afford to go to the doctor, or fill the prescriptions they get at the emergency room or find a doctor to even take their Medicaid. So many in our community are underinsured or not insured at all.

There are people who need to work but can’t because they can’t get well enough, or they wouldn’t pass a physical if they got a job, and those are just the people I serve at Haven House.

The rest of the community has like problems. Recently, the governor was here to announce the rollout of the Hoosier Insurance Plan, or HIP, and his efforts to get that plan approved as the Affordable Health Care Alternative (Obamacare) in Indiana.

The federal government has not approved it as of right now, but things look promising is what we are told. While we wait, people die.

For those with insurance, the plight isn’t much better. High premiums and even higher deductibles are the norm. When my husband and I began our careers, we didn’t earn much but we had excellent health care through our employers — $50 per month and a $250 deductible and 80/20 coverage.

Then the curve happened, and in the early 2000s, the cost of insurance skyrocketed and we were paying $100-plus out of my husband’s check and the deductible was $6,000. It is even higher now.

Even with an Health Savings Account, the out-of-pocket expense on medication has to equal $8,000 before the insurance kicks in.

In reality, we don’t have insurance, we have catastrophic coverage.

Getting medication is sometimes a strain. I can’t imagine having no coverage at all, and yet daily I deal with people who have none, and what happens is horrible sometimes.

There is a measure of support available in this community that is like a bright light, however, and people with no health insurance need to access that light.

Community Action of Southern Indiana has a grant that allows for “navigators” to assist unemployed or underemployed Hoosiers to apply for the national Affordable Health Care Act. The folks at CASI are friendly, capable and eager to help. They know how to guide you through the cumbersome application process on the computer, and they do so gently.

For those who have “navigated” the federal system, there are strong rewards. Insurance, the ability to get a doctor, medicine — the lifeblood for those with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions.

It takes a while, so the thing to do would be to start the process. You can do so by calling 812-288-6451 and asking for help. If you have zero income, you can be helped now; if you are employed there is limited help, but the CASI navigators can guide you through that process as well.

Your health is too important to risk because of the political positioning taking place around this issue right now. One of the unknown realities about the people we serve at the shelter is the assumption that mental illness/ drugs/ alcohol are primary contributors, and while they contribute to the numbers we serve, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people with physical illnesses or disabilities.

There are severe ones: A woman who lost a leg to diabetes and faces losing another. Even though she had no weight issue and she worked and exercised, she did not have the money for medical care and therefore had never had the medication she needed. By the time she reached us, it was too late for the large vein in her right leg.

Another client died of cancer because he had no health insurance or medical care and wouldn’t go to the emergency room because he couldn’t afford the bill. By the time we convinced him to seek medical care, the cancer had spread too far, and he died four months after his diagnosis. He was a veteran and a retired maintenance worker from a school system, but he was also medically indigent.

In this country, people should not have to worry about what they have to do to get well. They should be able to trust that help is there if it is needed and that insurance can once again be affordable for all people at a reasonable cost. No person in America should have to choose between their medicine and the rent.

Health care is a human right in most industrialized countries. We have to catch up.

— Barbara Anderson, Jeffersonville, is executive director of Haven House Services Inc. Reach her by email at


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