Op-Ed | Access to affordable health care saved my life

Detail of a doctor’s stethascope and name badge
Photo via Getty Images

In 2018, I experienced respiratory failure due to complications from extreme obesity. I was terrified, and I knew I had to make a change – quickly. 

This was not a situation that could be solved by simple lifestyle changes. I needed to take immediate and significant action. My doctors recommended I undergo gastric bypass surgery. 

I learned that this procedure, also known as bariatric surgery, costs on average about $24,300 without insurance, and carried a $3,500 co-pay with coverage. This seemed out of reach. But I also knew that without the surgery, I was putting myself at risk of heart disease, further respiratory damage, and even a potentially life-ending stroke. The high cost of health care put me in the position of having to choose between my financial health and my physical wellbeing. 

Then, I got a call from the 32BJ Health Fund. 

A representative told me the Fund would cover all expenses related to my surgery and recovery under a special program available only to Fund participants and their dependents. This simple call changed the trajectory of my life. I no longer had to put myself into debt just to stay alive. 

It’s hard to describe how much this meant to me and my family. Relieved of the worries about whether I could afford this surgery, I would be able to move forward and concentrate solely on my recovery and the steps I needed to take to avoid future health issues.

The surgery was successful. With the assistance of the 32BJ Health fund, I received the supplement plans needed to promote weight loss and an overall healthy lifestyle. In 2019, I topped the scales 375 pounds; I have lost 120 pounds since then, and I’m still going strong. The surgery and the ensuing changes I made to life got rid of my diabetes. 

The effect this has made on my life, and to those around me, has been one of the greatest gifts imaginable. I feel great; I can work and remain active without the pressing health concerns that plagued me for years. Most importantly, my family can take comfort in knowing I received proper care and likely extended the time I will spend with them by many years. 

I will forever be grateful to every member of the Fund and union who made this support possible. Without them, I might not be here today.

I know how lucky I am. Too many New Yorkers are unable to afford this kind of high-quality transformative care that my union and our health plan provide me. In fact, a recent survey found nearly 1 out of 4 Americans avoid seeking medical care – including doctor’s visits, medications, surgeries – because they can’t afford it. 

One of the top drivers of rapidly escalating health care costs in this state and nation is out-of-control hospital prices. It is critical that we rein in these costs to assure that all New Yorkers can access quality, affordable care like the life-saving surgery I was able to obtain. 

In hopes of reining in these sky-high costs, the Health Fund, 32BJ and its legislative allies in Albany have proposed the Hospital Equity and Affordability Law (HEAL), which aims to improve price transparency and curb anti-competitive hospital contracting practices.

I am convinced that without the Fund’s coverage, the surgery I required to bring me to where I am today would have been out of my reach. I support HEAL and my union’s campaign for fair hospital prices, which I believe will lead to a more equitable and livable New York. 

William Haynes is a member of 32BJ and a participant of the 32BJ Health Fund.

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