Petersen Letter to the Editor 09/27/2019

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To the Editor:

September is National Recovery Month, sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2019 marks the 30th year that National Recovery Month is celebrated. I’m writing because I believe Senator Bernie Sanders’ Medicare for All plan is the best way to take on the substance abuse crisis in America.

I’m 29 years old, I manage a retail store in Iowa, and I’m an alcoholic. I have spent my entire adult life battling a disease that afflicts nearly 20 million Americans. With the help of treatment and a recovery program, I celebrated two years of sobriety on August 12.

At age 27 I was homeless, jobless and out of options. I was blessed beyond measure to finally be able to go to rehab. I spent 28 days in an inpatient facility, and six weeks in outpatient care. I was so excited — my life began anew, unlike anything I had ever experienced. I didn’t have health insurance, and luckily for me, the treatment facility I visited had financing available. At seven days sober, I readily agreed to anything that would help me continue my journey.

Then I got the bill: $20,000, at $324 a month, is what it costs for me to be alive today.

In addition to daily expenses like housing, food and transportation, I am also working to pay off $25,000 in student debt. My combined student debt and alcohol treatment bills run $500 a month, which is approximately 20 percent of my income. Sure, my employer offers health insurance, but I can’t afford the premiums due to my previous medical bills and student loans.

I pray every day that I don’t become afflicted by a major illness or medical emergency, because I won’t be able to afford it. The rehab facility I went to no longer offers financing to people without private insurance due to the risk, meaning that people have to come up with cash or pay high deductibles or copayments to get the life-saving treatment they need. God forbid, if I ever relapsed, I would die. I don’t have another chance to beat addiction, because I can’t afford it.

Compared to others, my situation is not as grim. I’m not starving, I have a place to live, and I have a fantastic partner who loves me, named Luke. But we cannot save for a home of our own. We worry we won’t be able to afford to get married. Having children is a dream of ours, but we feel like we have to constantly kick the can down the road and keep waiting to start living the life we dream of.

Too many Americans are trapped in the cycle of medical debt because of a for-profit system. Healthcare is a human right, and Bernie Sanders’ plan for Medicare for All would allow us to begin the life we — and every other American — deserve.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline can be reached at 1-800-662 HELP (4357) for 24-hour, free, and confidential information and treatment referral.

C.J. Petersen


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