As a junior in college who worked twenty hours a week, I never planned on learning the ins and outs of our health care system. That all changed last year when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. I quickly learned what it means to have access to the benefits made possible through an employer-provided health plan, including care coordination services that make sure patients are seeing the best possible specialists. But I’ve also learned how we can do better.
It was January 2018 when I first sensed something was not right when the swelling around the left side of my neck persisted even though my cold had gone away. After several months, the swelling actually became worse. Thankfully, my mother and I were insured through her employer-provided health plan and we were able to visit an outpatient clinic. Unfortunately, they missed the diagnosis and sent me home with antibiotics.
Eventually I was able to see a specialist through our health plan who helped me navigate the system. Our plan ensured that I was able to see an expert, Dr. Perna, a name I mention because of the incredible care he gave me. I know that if it wasn’t for the health coverage my mother received through her employer, I may have never been able to access such quality care.
Once Dr. Perna removed two golf ball sized tumors, I immediately began fertilization treatments as a precursor to three long months of chemotherapy.
My treatments ended in September and I was officially in remission by November. My surgery and chemotherapy started in the summer allowing me to stay in school and graduate on schedule the next May.
I was in middle school when the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was passed and had never given much thought to how people had access to health care until my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. But I have benefited from the ACA in so many ways, including having access to my mother’s employer-provided plan, and that we were not denied coverage due to pre-existing conditions. It wasn’t just these benefits that have improved the lives of families like ours, but what health plans have been able to do to build on those benefits as well.
I understand that there is room for improvement in our health care system, and I have had the opportunity to discuss some of these potential improvements with Congresswoman Donna Shalala, a life-long advocate for greater access to affordable care. The congresswoman has assured me that one of her primary goals is “seamless health care coverage,” and she has the voting record in Congress to prove her commitment.
I never intended to be a health care advocate. I am simply a cancer survivor who wants to help. I know that more patients should be able to access the life-saving care that today’s health care community is able to deliver, and we should work at every turn to ensure access to this care is expanded, not reduced.
Utilizing innovative technologies is one way that health plans are expanding access to care. Programs like telehealth give quick and affordable access to physicians for people who would otherwise have difficulty making the trip to a provider. And through common-sense policy reforms like expanding Medicaid for the working poor and reducing prescription drug costs, our lawmakers can support efforts to expand access to care for more vulnerable populations and anyone who has a hard time affording care today.
I will continue to advocate for expanding access to quality and affordable care with our members of congress. More people should hear my story to understand the superior care that health plans are currently providing patients today. It will take collaboration from lawmakers, health plans, and health care providers to continue making a difference in the lives of Floridians and all Americans. My mother and I are survivors. I have seen the highs and lows of our health care system and hopefully our experiences can play a small part in another person’s survivor story.
Anya Martinez is a graduate of John Ferguson High School. Anya is a currently senior at FIU, majoring in Political Science and International Relations. Anya and her mother are both cancer survivors.