At five years old, Eliza looked like a pumpkin. She was round in the middle, her short legs and arms almost disappeared. She had a jack-o-lantern smile, most of the time her grin was the first thing people noticed about her. She had been born with Down’s syndrome and pulled into the world with forceps that had left her with cerebral palsy. Her walk was unsteady and her motions jerky. If her mother had not exercised her arms and legs when she was just an infant, she would not have been able to walk at all. It was almost impossible to feel sorry for Eliza though, because she was so cheerful.
When Eliza’s family filed for bankruptcy they lost their house. Eliza’s father had a good job, but no health insurance coverage. When Eliza was born, the doctor’s told her parents to institutionalize her. It was the thing that most people with a disabled child were told in the 1950’s. “Let the State care for her, it will be too costly and time consuming for you,” the doctor said. Her parents refused. Instead they paid for her medical care until there was no more money in their bank account and they couldn’t pay the mortgage on their home.
In those days no one had considered that institutional care was a form of socialized medicine. It was though, except that you had to give up your child to an institution.
What happened to Eliza’s family worried me a lot when I was a child. My parents did not talk about how they worried about making their mortgage payments each time they received a bill from a hematologist or one of my emergency visits to the hospital. I never shared my worries about money with my parents.
In 1962 when Senator Edward Kennedy was elected as a Senator, I was not old enough to vote. I wrote him a letter to thank him for his concern providing all citizens with health insurance. He served in Congress almost 47 years and it was not until after his death that President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act into law on March 23, 2010.
No child should have to worry about what it costs their family for medical care and treatment.