It was with tremendous sadness that I read a Facebook post by her family announcing that Jennifer Jaff, Founder and Executive Director of Advocacy for Patients, a nonprofit dedicated towards helping individuals file insurance appeals, passed away on Friday. It was also appropriate that the world would learn of her passing tonight, as she was a person who truly cared about everyone.
I first met Jennifer when she sent me a cease and desist letter. I had a blogspot blog back in the day, and I was occupying myself writing nasty posts about a nonprofit advocacy organization for people with my condition. I was just recovering from years of illness, and merely wanted to be able to do something positive again. I misconstrued an email and went bezerk.
Jennifer stopped representing that organization after I said "I can say what I want to say," and lent me a hand. I was a miserable person back then. But she saw that I was angry with what I saw--people dying because they didn't have access to health care (and Jennifer would nod approvingly if I noted that health care is not a hand out, but a basic human dignity that enables us to do God's work, Mr. Romney). She brought me on to her organizations conference calls, encouraged my writing here, and had me deliver a copy of her book on the failures of the American health care system to every member on the relevant committees in the House and Senate, even my old nemesis Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH). Without Jennifer, I would not have the career and job that I enjoy today.
And without her tireless efforts, I think the Affordable Care Act would not have passed. Jennifer painted the portrait of the people who were left out of the system. Of the kids with cancer who died because they had pre-existing conditions; of the 25 year old with Crohn's Disease who couldn't afford the $5,000 a month in biologic drugs due to benefit maximums being hit; or a father who would not be there for his son because the insurance company determined he had a pre-existing condition when he enrolled and stopped life-saving heart surgery; or the Mother who skipped cancer treatments so her kids could eat. Jennifer Jaff cared about everyone.
She founded Advocacy for Patients after reading awful stories about insurance denials on an early internet message board for people with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease. She fought denials and other pathetic behavior of the insurance companies and won more than she lost. Her blog detailed just how much she cared about those who her organization served.
Jennifer was also connected and a political realist. She counted US Senators and very well known activists as friends. Her personal Facebook feed, for those of us who were fortunate enough to read it, focused on two things: first passing health care reform and then protecting it. She worked tirelessly on a brief to the United States Supreme Court in the health care cases. She privately worried that no one would read it. Maybe Justice Roberts did; maybe he didn't. But Jennifer made sure that our stories--the stories of the tens of millions of Americans froze out by the old health care system--was told in the cloakrooms of Congress and the Supreme Court. She also was an old Ted Kennedy hand, and as such had contacts in the administration (and she would scream at me if I divulged them). So she made sure that people with access to the President heard our stories too. She even posted here for a while as well.
She lived to see health care reform passed; she lived to see the Supreme Court decision--she was a person who revered the Supreme Court--that she called the biggest victory ever for the chronically ill. To the end, she was fighting. She hadn't had a day off in months and two days before her death wrote a post detailing her plans for a vacation filled with movies.
Jennifer Jaff was a testament to the basic goodness inside every human being. She saved hundreds of lives through enabling access to care. She helped people like me pick ourselves up and recover from the ravages of illness. And she fought to correct the injustices of our country's health care system from within the political system. She was a hero of the Affordable Care Act, and without people like her, people like me wouldn't have the good insurance we will have come January 1, 2014.
Godspeed, my friend. Thank you for a life well lived.
Her family indicated that in lieu of flowers please send donations to Advocacy for Patients, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that Jennifer founded, and will be one of her many lasting legacies.