Al is a crusty New Yorker who moved to our very waspy Republican stronghold here in Central Florida about 10 years ago to open a small cabinetry and carpentry shop.
My wife and I own a small cafe here that we opened one month after President Obama was elected. Our very risky venture---on opening day I think we had $100 to our name---was fueled in part by our enthusiasm for what we saw as a turning point in American history.
Now it's five years later and we're still open, we're crowded almost every day and everyone in the county knows about us. We can't claim to any profits yet---in fact, if I didn't have a day job we would have closed already. The cafe business---in a poor working class community---is a tough row to hoe.
But this is about my buddy Al and how he thinks 'Obamacare' saved his life.
Al fits in around here pretty well. For the most part, he's adopted the views and attitudes of his neighbors. That would be far right wing---he's the tolerant fringe of the secessionist movement. In our neck of the woods that makes him a liberal.
My wife and I still have Obama bumper stickers on our vehicles. We've learned not to talk politics around the cafe unless we're invited, and after the first three or four times I unloaded on the more cretinous claims our customers have uttered, we aren't invited often.
Al is more convivial. He hangs with the good old boys, whose talk might draw Secret Service attention in a different context, and he occasionally argues with them, but they still invite him to sit and eat.
We haven't seen Al for about six weeks. Today he came in for breakfast with a scary story.
In November his wife found a lump. After preliminary tests, her doctor advised her to sign up with ACA. I know---small miracles occur in the strangest places. I'd name the doctor to honor him, but there could be reprisals.
Al objected to the idea. Around the cafe he ranted and railed with all the usual talking points. When her application process started---it took six or seven days---his 'Obamacare' updates turned into the morning cartoon for the good old boys.
He also started working 16 hour days, seven days a week, to pay what he assumed would be whopping medical bills. He sold his boat. He put off a decision to buy the building his shop is in. He put his house on the market.
And he almost worked himself to death.
Just after Al's wife successfully completed her ACA enrollment, her tests proved positive and she underwent surgery. It was successful, she spent three days in the hospital and on her third day home she found Al face down in the living room.
911. Emergency room. His 'heart attack' was actually severe pneumonia. He was in the hospital for 29 days---13 in the ICU unit. His kidneys quit and he's still on dialysis twice a day, but he's healthy enough to come in for breakfast this morning, two weeks since he left the hospital, and doctors think his dialysis is short-term. Al is hopeful. Actually, he's kind of glowing.
His speech is a little slow, his attitude way less aggressive. He's not so "crusty" anymore. And he's damn thankful we have ACA.
"Four days after we were approved, I died," he told the good old boys. And he had their rapt attention (the good old boys are really old, and they're all pretty casual about death and dying, in public at least).
When the talk turned to his hospital bill, the good old boys' consensus comes to somewhere between $100,000 and $250,000.
"So far it cost me $340 for my wife and that was all meeds," Al said. "For me, I paid $160 for a TV set in my room. Except for that I haven't seen a single bill."
No doubt Al will get a bill or two, and this isn't the end of his story.
But for now he doesn't have to close his business or sell his house. His six employees still have jobs. And all in all, Al is pretty damn hopeful. He's calling the property owner today to restart negotiations to buy his building.
And the good old boys, for a while at least, were very quiet.