|Written by BY SHEILA REGAN, TC DAILY PLANET (http://www.tcdailyplanet.net),
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November 01, 2012
For 33-year-old Peggy Flanagan, health care policy is "super personal."Â About a decade ago, Flanaganâs mom had to go on social security disability because her pain was so bad. With her fibromyalgia, she could no longer perform the tasks that she needed to do for her job. âThat was really hard, because my mom really defined herself through her work,â Flanagan said. âThat was her identity â someone who got up at the crack of dawn and worked late into the night. Just to not be able to have that has been really hard on her.â
Care for people. Itâs a simple enough concept, but one that sometimes gets lost in all the rhetoric and politics during election season. What would happen if more of our elected officials and people in government thought about the value of caring for people? When it comes to health care reform, 33-year-old Peggy Flanagan wishes politicians would talk about what it means for real people, how Paul Ryanâs plan to turn Medicare into a voucher program people like her mom, a woman who worked her whole life healing others, and now canât always even get the medication she needs.
Flanagan has worked for theÂ Division of Indian Work, was a School Board Member with Minneapolis Public Schools, and is now the Director of External Affairs for Wellstone Action, where sheâs taken a leave to work for Minnesota United for All Families. Sheâs also expecting a baby in February. And through all of this sheâs cared for her mom, a woman who for the past 10 or so years has battled a host of health issues including fibromyalgia, severe osteoporosis and scoliosis, and now has issues with her breathing, because her spine is collapsing and crushing her ribs, making it more and more difficult for her to breathe, and making her essentially bed ridden.
Flanagan decided to vote for Barack Obama in 2008 after he told a story about watching his mom suffer in her last weeks and days of life and having to be on the phone with the insurance company arguing about whether or not theyâd pay for her pain medication. âThat was the story for me that made me go, âOkay. This guy gets it and will be an advocate for me and my family and specifically for my mom.â
Flanaganâs mom worked her entire life, essentially, in hospitals. She was at Midway Hospital and she finished her career working at Methodist in the Cancer Center as a phlebotomist.
âYou never really realize that your parents have a life outside of you,â Flanagan said. âWhat was so powerful to me is weâd be out grocery shopping and sheâd run into one of her patients, and theyâd be like âOh, Pat, how are you?â and just sort of light up when they saw her.â Flanagan saw how her mom did make a difference in peopleâs lives. Thought she was primarily doing things like drawing blood and lab work, and putting IVs into people, she has a caretaker spirit. âSheâs invested so much of herself- and I think sometimes when youâre in the work of healing other people, you sometimes take some of that illness onto yourself as well,â Flanagan said.
When Flanagan was in college, her mom made the decision to leave Flanaganâs stepdad, who was an alcoholic and a batterer. After a long and messy divorce, Flanaganâs stepdad was ordered to pay spousal support. Over the course of their relationship, he had cashed in on two of her mother's pensions. Since then, heâs lived all over the country, and there arenât dollars at the county level to track him down. âThereâs barely enough dollars to track down fathers and parents who donât pay child support,â Flanagan said.
Since that time, her momâs health has deteriorated, and they havenât seen the step dad, though theyâve heard rumors that he shows up in town every once in a while. âWhatâs so hard is that once my mom made the decision to get safe, she didnât have anything.â Because over the course of their relationship she had become completely financially dependent on him, when she finally had to stop working, there was no choice but to move in with her daughter.
âI grew up for a long time when it was just me and my mom until she got married, and she did the best that she could with me and taking care of me. You care for those you care for you- thatâs a value I have and that I was raised with and frankly if there were more people who thought that who were either elected officials or in government, I think weâd be in a much better place,â Flanagan said.Â
When her mom moved in with her, it was really tough. They did it for about five years, and the medical bills just became too much with trying to maintain a house, and they ended up losing their home in foreclosure. âWe just had to make a choice if we were going to support her and get her what she needed, and put every dime into a house, it just didnât make sense for us,â Flanagan said.
Fortunately, Flanaganâs Auntie and Uncle were able to purchase a condominium, where her mother now lives, paying them a modest rent. For two years, Flanaganâs Auntie cared for her mother every day, with Flanagan coming over twice a week. Then, last April, her uncle died, so now Flanagan and her husband have taken up the duty of visiting her mother daily after work. Her momâs currently on a waiting list to get someone to care for her 7 hours a week. âWeâre in that process of getting that support for her, but itâs taken a long time, and my fear is that â my mom has Medicare and Medicaid â if we go to some type of voucher program, I have no idea what that means for us. Already every month we pay for groceries, and some bills, and with expecting a baby in February, itâs just a little overwhelming to think about how to make that all work,â Flanagan said.Â
Flanagan considers herself blessed that she and her Auntie and husband have been able to step in and be caretakers for her mom, but she wonders what happens to people who donât have that kind of family support. As an organizer who has worked in politics, Flanagan knows how to navigate the system, but thatâs not true for everyone. She thinks about those âwho are holding their breath for election day to see what happens and see whether theyâre going to be able to have kids, or pay for their medications, or pay for all these choices. So for me, thatâs what this whole election is all about. Is my mom going to be able to get the care that she needs?â Flanagan said.
When Obamacare passed, it allowed Flanagan and her mom to breathe a sigh of relief. âIt doesnât impact her pain from day to day, but it gives her confidence that her coverage will continue, that thereâs a leader who is looking out for her and for our family.âÂ
Thatâs not to say that Flanagan doesnât see room for improvement in our current system. She sees doctors that have a sense of urgency, trying to get through as many patients as possible, and who often donât take the time to listen to her mother about what her challenges are. Sheâs also experienced having to jump through hoops, and think about spend downs, and that her mom canât get this test this month, because there isnât enough money here, so they have to wait, instead just being able to get the care that her mom needs. âI think thatâs something that Iâd like to change, that people just get the care that they need, because thatâs what they need, and they donât have to make choices between do I do this or do I not do this? Should we just cross our fingers and just wait and hope that this is going to turn out to be okay? Can I go without this medication for the next three weeks because it wonât be covered again next month?â
âItâs super personal,â Flanagan said. âThe bottom line is that a woman who made a decision to keep herself safe, and to take her life back is now being punished by the same system that she invested in almost all of her professional life. Itâs really a tragedy. Unfortunately I think thatâs the current story of our health care system in this country.âÂ