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What if Healthcare was a Basic Human Right

What if Healthcare was a Basic Human Right
By Lisa Nishimura

“What if I cannot afford this?” A question that people who live paycheck to paycheck are far too often left with. We are the ones without savings, not because we do not want a comfort cushion, but simply because our unjust circumstances do not allow for it. We are the ones who barely make our payments with scraps of leftovers. Too often, are left to do all the hard labor, ignoring our health concerns for fear of exuberant hospital costs.

I am one of those individuals. I grew up with a single, immigrant parent my entire life, having lived through housing insecurity. As life took abrupt turns and tribulations, with job and income instability, health and wellness was no longer a priority–we were often in “survival mode.”

Growing older, around my sophomore year of college, I saw how survival mode not only affected physical health but, most importantly, mental health. The relationship with the only family member I love and have, became strained and I did not know how to start the healing process. While I had advocated for seeking external services (i.e., counseling, therapy), mental health stigma outweighed seeking help, and our mental conditions quickly eroded.

My mental health deteriorated to the point of thoughts of my own erasure–I later learned that I am clinically depressed and live with PTSD. Thankfully, I was able to receive the appropriate mental health care necessary at the moment due to my health coverage. Without Medicaid, I would not have been able to cover the cost of a week’s stay in a hospital because of suicidal ideations back in September 2019. As horrible as it seems, I was terrified of facing insurmountable hospital costs that my family could not afford. Fortunately, I did not have to pay a single penny for medical care that saved my life.

But, it was not only my life saved but hers too.

This past July, I realized how time could be the deciding factor between life and death: I came home to find my family member on the brink of taking in her last breaths. Having self-medicated for several years—it could have been a deadly turning point for her. A point of no return, I knew that if I did not act fast, the aftermath would be irreversible. With hands shaking, I dialed 911. At that very moment, questions about healthcare affordability due to her immigration status ceased to matter—I needed to save the only person I called family.

And, luckily, I did.

Stories like mine are not new, and some tales take a much different turn—in these stories, some people only exist through memories. Those who knew them are left with agonizing thoughts of “What if.”