In nearly 15 years writing news, one of the most gut-wrenching, powerful stories I’ve ever covered happened this past January when I interviewed Alex Andrews less than a week after he had been shot through his kitchen window around 2 in the morning by an unknown assailant.
If you recall, he remembered it all, in vivid detail. As I wrote at the time, he remembered getting up early that Thursday morning for a snack. He remembered cutting up vegetables and hearing a sound at the window, and turning to see the figure of a man standing outside with a shotgun. He remembered thinking, “I’m about to get shot.” And then he was.
“The buckshot comes flying through and finds its way into nearly every part of my body from the knee up,” he said. “And I’m realizing I’m blind in my left eye, and I’m realizing I have a fractured skull. My jaw is dislocated. My face is immediately starting to swell. And I have two lacerated veins in my jugular. I started bleeding so intensely that within just a few blinks I realize my whole body is starting to ooze red.”
The police came and an ambulance arrived and Alex was helicoptered to West Virginia where he underwent several emergency surgeries. Over six months later, there have been no arrests in the case.
I’ve spoken with Alex recently and he still doesn’t know why this happened to him. He’s not a drug dealer and he wasn’t messing around with somebody’s girlfriend or anything like that. As far as he’s concerned, he was just living his life, and then this happened.
Alex is a tattoo artist who owns his own shop here in Athens. It was his dream to open that shop – Thunder Bunny Tattoo Parlor on Stimson Avenue. He worked hard as hell to open it and he worked hard as hell to build it up. American dream stuff, right?
But while he built his business and worked hard as hell to do so, he couldn’t afford health insurance. Medical professionals saved Alex’ life, but he was left with over $500,000 worth of medical bills, and counting.
So somebody pours everything within them to start their own business and build it as best they can, and practice their art, and hone their skills, and work as hard as they can, and one medical catastrophe can sending them and their families hurling toward bankruptcy and financial ruin.
Except, in Alex’s case, that didn’t happen, and it didn’t happen because two provisions in the Affordable Care Act were responsible for him not going broke and being forced to sell his business.
The provisions are presumptive eligibility and retroactive eligibility under Medicaid. With these provisions, Alex was able to obtain health coverage without spending months waiting for Medicaid, and his coverage applied retroactively to the day he was shot.
U.S. Senate Republicans on Tuesday voted to proceed forward with a bill that would eliminate those provisions. They voted to proceed with a bill that, among many other atrocious things, seeks to eliminate critical protections for low-income people to avoid huge medical bills and financial ruin.
This is one of the shameful, unspoken facts of health coverage and medical expenses in America: For many low-income people, working multiple jobs, who still can’t afford health insurance, devastation of health often results in financial devastation as well.
With provisions such as presumptive and retroactive eligibility, Obamacare slowed this down with some compassionate protections. Now Republicans in the U.S. Congress are trying to rip those protections away so they can afford to give massive, windfall tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires.
I ran into Alex in Athens a couple weeks ago. He still doesn’t know who shot him. He still doesn’t know why this happened. But he is now working on an exciting prosthetics project to help others who have lost parts of themselves like he lost his eye.
The man just keeps going. It’s damned admirable. And I’m certainly glad he’s in a position now to try to help others, and his business is still thriving, and he’s not bankrupt and financially destroyed. Nobody deserves that.
But the American dream in 2017 doesn’t see all Americans as worthy of guaranteed health coverage for life. The American dream in 2017 prioritizes profits for shareholders over the American people – over everything really. In America, money is god, and profits are the lifeblood of the deity.