A Sigh of Relief

Photo: Debra stands outside her country home, with her faithful companion Big Foot always nearby

“You can’t put a price on your health.”

Debra lives in a small house on a country road lined with wildflowers. Her living room walls are covered with photos of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and her husband Hank, who fancied wearing straw fedoras.

This spring, at age 71, Hank died after a long bout with diabetes. Before his death, Debra took two weeks off from her job as a cook to care for him. After his funeral, she returned to work and learned she was terminated after 15 years of employment.

“My job was a commitment,” Debra says, “like my marriage. I did both. When I got off work, I came home and took care of my husband.” She remembers years when she clocked in at work before dawn and left at 9 p.m. Cooking was her passion, so she didn’t mind.

Debra had been in the workforce since she was 14 years old and never thought that now, at age 57, she would be seeking help for herself. But when she lost her job--and with it her health insurance--Debra was scared. That’s because for nearly 20 years she has lived and worked with just one lung.

Back when she was 40, she learned that a nagging cough that didn’t respond to antibiotics was lung cancer. Her left lung was removed, and she was told she had five years to live. Undeterred, she continued to do the things she loved—cooking, working and enjoying her grandchildren and husband. Needless to say, she’s a survivor.

Without health insurance, Debra could not afford her prescriptions or the $900 per month cost of oxygen she depends on. Debra thought the only way she could get health insurance would be by getting a new job, and she started applying right away.

Then she learned about Insure Central Texas, a program of Foundation Communities, funded by St. David’s Foundation, that helps people understand the health insurance options offered by the Affordable Care Act. An insurance counselor helped her assess her needs and navigate her options. Within an hour, she was signed up for a new health insurance plan she could afford. For Debra, this meant that she was able to afford her oxygen tanks while looking for a job.

“All my medicine is free!” she says with wonder. She was even able to keep her primary care physician and only pays $87 a month. “I don’t mind paying out of my pocket,” she says. “You can’t put a price on your health.”

“I gotta keep my head up,” she says, though walking further than her front porch makes her short of breath. “I’m still young. I ain’t dead!” she adds with a deep chuckle. As she sits on her porch with a hound named Big Foot, the peace of the rural setting is punctuated with the constant puff, sigh, puff, sigh of her oxygen tank.

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