President Obama signs health care reform law. (Photo: White House)
President Obama signs health care reform law. (Photo: White House)

Earlier this week, the Los Angeles Times published an opinion piece from Spike Dolomite Ward, a San Fernando Valley woman who ended up uninsured.

Her story sparked heated debate on the Times’ discussion board — 1,190 comments so far. It’s worth reading her entire essay, but I excerpt it here and include some of the more pointed reader comments at the end.

I want to apologize to President Obama. But first, some background.

I found out three weeks ago I have cancer. I’m 49 years old, have been married for almost 20 years and have two kids. My husband has his own small computer business, and I run a small nonprofit in the San Fernando Valley. I am also an artist. Money is tight, and we don’t spend it frivolously. …

We’re good people, and we work hard. But we haven’t been able to afford health insurance for more than two years. And now I have third-stage breast cancer and am facing months of expensive treatment.

To understand how such a thing could happen to a family like ours, I need to take you back nine years to when my husband got laid off from the entertainment company where he’d worked for 10 years. Until then, we had been insured through his work, with a first-rate plan. After he got laid off, we got to keep that health insurance for 18 months through COBRA, by paying $1,300 a month, which was a huge burden on an unemployed father and his family.

By the time the COBRA ran out, my husband had decided to go into business for himself, so we had to purchase our own insurance. That was fine for a while. Every year his business grew. But insurance premiums were steadily rising too. …

With the recession, both of our businesses took a huge hit. … We had to start using a home equity line of credit to pay for our health insurance premiums (which by that point cost as much as our monthly mortgage). When the bank capped our home equity line, we were forced to cash in my husband’s IRA. The time finally came when we had to make a choice between paying our mortgage or paying for health insurance. We chose to keep our house. We made a nerve-racking gamble, and we lost.

Not having insurance amplifies cancer stress. After the diagnosis, instead of focusing all of my energy on getting well, I was panicked about how we were going to pay for everything. I felt guilty and embarrassed about not being insured.

Despite the embarrassment, she decided to “out” herself in the Times. “What I want people to understand,” she writes, “is that, if this could happen to us, it could happen to anybody.”

Fortunately for me, I’ve been saved by the federal government’s Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan, something I had never heard of before needing it. It’s part of President Obama’s healthcare plan, one of the things that has already kicked in, and it guarantees access to insurance for U.S. citizens with preexisting conditions who have been uninsured for at least six months. The application was short, the premiums are affordable, and I have found the people who work in the administration office to be quite compassionate …

Which brings me to my apology. I was pretty mad at Obama before I learned about this new insurance plan. I had changed my registration from Democrat to Independent, and I had blacked out the top of the “h” on my Obama bumper sticker, so that it read, “Got nope” instead of “got hope.” I felt like he had let down the struggling middle class. My son and I had campaigned for him, but since he took office, we felt he had let us down.

So this is my public apology. I’m sorry I didn’t do enough of my own research to find out what promises the president has made good on. I’m sorry I didn’t realize that he really has stood up for me and my family, and for so many others like us. I’m getting a new bumper sticker to cover the one that says “Got nope.” It will say “ObamaCares.”

Her essay ends there, but the story does not. As noted above, this piece sparked an intense debate. Here are just a few of the comments:

llyKerwin at 10:31 PM December 8, 2011

You’re a good person because you have a house? No, you are not. You chose owning real estate over insuring yourself. I have no idea if that makes you a bad person, but it is absolutely not a virtue.

If you make money on that house, are you willing to share it with the taxpayers who are forced to subsidize your health care because you chose to keep a potentially appreciating asset?

WordsMatter at 6:12 PM December 8, 2011

Dear Spike Dolomite Ward, Let me get this straight. Because you were irresponsible and didn’t plan for your health needs, I am paying for your irresponsibility. Right? Right!  Your on the healthcare welfare roll because you made bad decisions that we’re all having to pay for now.

Computer Forensics Expert at 2:53 PM December 8, 2011

… Compassion?  As a working slob, why should I have to go out, work my butt off and then have my tax money spent on someone who chooses to be a “free spirit” artist and working for a non-profit, instead of assuming some personal responsibilty and getting a REAL job?

Now, Spike Dolomite Ward gets a government handout at our expense.  Well, Spike, guess what?  You are no different than the bum on the street or the person living in Bel-Air.  People make choices, and you are a victim of your own devices.

Nobama in 2012.  NO MORE TAKERS!!!!

Yesterday, the Times ran a response from Ward:

My husband and I both knew that by doing this, we would invite hatred into our lives, and that indeed has happened.  To those of you who don’t want to see the commonalities between me and my family, let me pose it to you this way:  If your sister or mother lost her job and health insurance, and then turned up with breast cancer, what would you do?  Would you let her die?  Would you pick up the cancer tab yourself?, or would you tell her about PCIP?

One Woman’s Apology to President Obama 9 December,2011Lisa Aliferis

  • G G

    This is a courageous woman, who is facing a very difficult physical challenge. My first comment is that I am very sorry for her suffering and fear.

    We in America pay a fraction of what other people pay in taxes for protection against disasters such as deadly disease.

    How the world economies will balance out in the future is hard to predict, but clearly, the movement, the push is going to be for a greater sharing of wealth, so that we can afford medical care, food, shelter, and education.

    I am sorry that this forum permits the vitriolic comments above. The SFGATE and NYTIMES would not permit hate speech.

    Good luck, and you, like many of us, have been downsized to the nub of bare essentials.

    Good luck in your future challenge with cancer.

    May you prevail.


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

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