Doctors with patient, 1999 Item 100429, Fleets and Facilities Department Imagebank Collection (Record Series 0207-01), Seattle Municipal Archives.
Tamara Williams is 40, a mother of three from North Little Rock, Arkansas. She had her first mammogram in February, where something wrong was spotted. After a follow-up biopsy, doctors diagnosed invasive ductal carcinoma—cancer. Her surgery was in March, and she'll soon begin chemotherapy.  

Hers is not such a remarkable story, except that Williams only had that mammogram because she'd just gained insurance after 10 years when Arkansas expanded Medicaid with its private option under Obamacare. She has always worked, but never at a job that provided health insurance or paid enough that she could afford it on her own—she has hypertension, one of those pre-existing conditions that insurance companies would use to hike premiums out of reach of far too many working people.

Williams's story is just one of several the Arkansas Times tells, part of a series the paper is presenting to show the "faces of health care expansion."

Williams is not out of the woods with the cancer but she is feeling upbeat.

"You kind of feel like you're getting the VIP treatment because it was like boom, boom, boom, let's get it out," she said. "I was like, wow, insurance really does mean something. You have good days and bad days, but I'm optimistic. It's mind over matter. If you hope for the best, you have better outcomes."

While Williams' reaction is understandable, it's heartbreaking. Americans should not feel like VIPs simply because they are getting the health care they need when they need it. But that's the result of our broken system, one that is getting a little less broken under Obamacare.

For more stories from Arkansas, head below the fold.

Fetara Amos, 22, had a similar reaction to Williams when she found out she was going to be able to qualify for coverage. "I actually cried in front of this man," she said. "It felt amazing. I felt like my prayers had been answered." She too has a chronic, serious condition and has been uninsured for four years. The scar tissue and tumors on her thyroid had sometimes become so painful that she could barely walk, and has only been able to work part time as a nursing assistant. Her husband makes minimum wage work in fast food, but hopes to go to school to learn a trade. They made too much to qualify for Medicaid before reform, but now have it.

"It felt like a ton of weight was lifted off of my chest," Amos said. "I felt relieved. We could finally get coverage and be able to take care of ourselves."

Amos is having her surgery this week to get the tumors removed. She is hopeful the surgery will allow her to safely have another child. "I pray to God it does," she said. "I've been blessed this far, and He'll keep on blessing me."

Fifty-six-year-old Irene Warren has been insured for more than a decade, and is unemployed, largely because of her health. "I got congestive heart failure. […] I got liver disease. I got kidney disease. Arthritis. Gout. I got it all." On top of that, she had a stroke in 2012.
"I did what I could do," she said. She pointed to a stack of papers a foot high. "That's medical bills. I still owe a lot. Then you're just shamed to go back to the doctor because they're going to tell you that you still owe. It hurt, you know? It was a hurting feeling."
She learned about the new health law in church one Sunday, applied and now has a Blue Cross Blue Shield plan under the private option, and was able to go to the doctor without feeling shame. "It changed my whole way of thinking. […] It uplifted my life. If something happened to me now and I go to feeling bad, I can go to the doctor."

There is story after story presented here, people with serious chronic illnesses from Type I diabetes to Crohn's disease to heart ailments, many of whom have been able to hang on to jobs because of their health, some who are still facing crippling health bills, and a few who've had to file bankruptcy. Every one of them has had to compromise their health because the simply couldn't afford to go to the doctor, making their situation even more dire.

Meanwhile, Republican governors and legislators around the country, in those states that still refuse to expand, say that it's too expensive to save the lives and the families of these people. They rail against the federal government putting itself in doctors' offices. They insist they're being fiscally responsible, despite the financial and moral costs to their states of having a collective 5 million people unable to pay for critical care.

Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Thu May 08, 2014 at 10:54 AM PDT.

Also republished by Obamacare Saves Lives and Daily Kos.

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