Camden pastor's sermon: Get Health Coverage
March 07, 2014
The Rev. Marilyn Dixon Hill knows what it’s like to live without health insurance.
So for the past several months, the associate pastor of Camden Bible Tabernacle Church has rallied to get the city’s uninsured residents to apply for health coverage now available through the Affordable Care Act.
Her story serves as a warning of the dangers of being uninsured.
Four years ago, while working as a registered nurse, Dixon Hill was struck with Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare but serious side effect caused by the seasonal flu shot she had received.
She was admitted to the hospital with spreading paralysis and a slowing heart rate. It took four days before doctors were able to figure out why. The syndrome left her permanently disabled.
“I couldn’t even turn in bed by myself,” said Dixon Hill, a 61-year-old Voorhees resident who has a chronic form of the disease. “I thank God that I didn’t die.”
When her employer-provided health benefits ran out, she couldn’t afford the $700 monthly insurance premium on her disability check. It would take two years for her to get Medicare. Meanwhile, she couldn’t pay the $20,000 bill for two bags of intravenous medication that kept her alive in the hospital. Or the $425 for a 30-day supply for just one of her 14 prescriptions.
“It hit me in the belly,” said Dixon Hill, who was ordained during her recovery. “I didn’t even realize it as a nurse, that if you were sick ... you can lose everything in six months, because there’s nothing in place to help you.”
An estimated 900,000 New Jersey residents are uninsured, and about a third of them are expected to be eligible for Medicaid. The deadline to buy insurance is March 31.
It’s hoped more than a half-million people will enroll by 2016, according to a goals report released this week by New Jersey Policy Perspective and the Rutgers Center on State Health Policy.
According to the NJ for Health Care Coalition, most uninsured residents don’t know about insurance plans offered through the federal marketplace, premium subsidies or expanded eligibility for Medicaid. In the absence of a state-led enrollment campaign, the coalition has organized a grass-roots campaign to get the word out.
In Camden, a dozen partner organizations are scrambling to enroll city residents with just 24 days to go before the deadline.
Heidy Espada, a nurse care coordinator for Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers, said enrollment will “de-clutter” emergency departments and ease hospital bills.
Anthony Phoenix, a 49-year-old city resident, said he enrolled in a plan and received his insurance card a few weeks later. He’s looking forward to a doctor’s visit in June that will cost him a $30 co-payment, instead of $80.
But, it turns out, affordable health care is a tough sell for some.
Dixon Hill has been preaching the message one-on- one to her uninsured congregants and even to her 34-year-old son, whose job does not include health benefits. Many have been failed by the health care system, she said, and distrust runs deep.
“It takes education and walking alongside these folks,” she said. “That’s why I love telling my story.”