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I’m ready

When I saw that the campaign had started Nurses for Obama, I said: “I’m ready—just tell me what to do!”

I’ve wanted to be a nurse since I was five years old. I went into the medical field to serve others—that’s why you become a nurse. At the moment, I work part-time at the Veterans Affairs hospital here in Richmond, and I run a small business with my twin sister Shaun doing outreach and education for diabetics in our community. We are also heavily involved in our church ministry—we’re in charge of the medical ministry for a congregation of 15,000 people, helping people access health screenings, educating our congregation on chronic diseases, and partnering with community entities such as the National Kidney Foundation. So, that’s my weekend! We stay pretty busy.

Working in community health care, I know there are a lot of people who aren’t covered. It’s not who you think it is: it’s not just people who don’t work. Most people don’t have insurance simply because they can’t afford it. A lot of my patients fall right above coverage like Medicaid. If you make a dollar over the threshold, you can’t get it. And my patients say to me: “I’m not going to quit my job to get government care—that’s not who I am.”

All of my diabetes patients are considered to have pre-existing conditions, and my prayer is that through the Affordable Care Act they can all get coverage. We’re trying to manage their care, but if you don’t have insurance, how can you afford medicine or testing supplies? I don’t understand how the other side can think it’s OK that so many people aren’t covered, but then to pay huge amounts when the uninsured go into the emergency room for an amputation or dialysis. The other day I was talking to a patient of mine, a gentleman, about the Affordable Care Act’s pre-existing condition clause, and he said: “Really? I didn’t know that!” And so I told him some of the basics—like how he’ll be able to get coverage starting in 2014. Whenever I see a patient without insurance, I tell them: “You need to get out and vote—here’s why.”

But health care reform affects my own family, too. I don’t get insurance through my job—I have it through my husband. I took leave from my job at the VA to pursue my dream of starting my own business, and have been insured through my husband's job. During that time, I was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. My husband's company has been talking about layoffs—fortunately, that hasn’t happened yet. Since heart failure is considered a pre-existing condition, if he loses his job I wouldn’t be able to get coverage. I take medicine every day, and it’s expensive: If I had to pay out of pocket, just one of my medications would be over 100 dollars a month. What if something happens and I can’t afford it? That scares me a lot.

For all these reasons, I’ve been tossing ideas around with my friends and my sister about what we can do. We’re hoping to highlight National Nurses Week in May. We can pass out fliers, or maybe make short presentations at health fairs, about the impact this law is having. This election is probably the most important one in decades, so we have already been going out and making sure people know they need to get a state ID to vote. We want to get as many people as we can to the polls on Election Day.

The bottom line is, the crowd I hang around with is very passionate and vocal about health care issues and we’re ready to spread the word. I believe it’s our duty and moral obligation to serve those in need, and making sure health care is available to all is a way to do just that. We are indeed our brother’s keeper! Nurses here in Virginia, we’re fired up to protect health care reform.

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