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Serious Illness Taught Me the Value of Insurance

Cecelia Smaha is being honored as an Affordable Care Act Champion of Change.

Cecelia Smaha

Cecelia Smaha is being honored as an Affordable Care Act Champion of Change.

I don’t remember driving home from work with the Georgia Department of Labor on November 19, 1999. I had flu-like symptoms and felt awful that day. My housemate was so alarmed when I arrived home that she tried to get me to call an ambulance. I refused because my insurance would not pay for the ambulance if the hospital didn’t admit me. I didn’t think I was that sick, and I couldn’t afford to pay the ambulance fee.

Blessed by God to have such a caring housemate, I made it through the weekend. But on Monday, I ended up in the hospital in a coma and was placed in the acute intensive care unit. Three weeks later, I awoke from the coma to learn that I’d had a severe E. coli bacterial infection and was lucky to be alive.

I was in the hospital for seven weeks, but I also had a long period of recuperation to follow that hospital stay. I never gave any thought to the cost of my hospital stay until I got the bill from the hospital. I couldn’t fathom paying almost a quarter of a million dollars! And that bill didn’t even include any of the doctors’ bills nor the aftercare with home nurses. I didn’t have that kind of money. The only thing I owned was my car.

I was advised not to pay anything until I checked with my insurance company. As it turned out, my insurance paid for everything. Because of residual effects from this illness, I still have medical complications, but my insurance continues to pay. This was a lesson of a lifetime: Everyone needs insurance.

On December 12, 2001, I was privileged to become an associate of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas South Central Community. In this role, I help provide services to people who are less fortunate, including the economically poor and the less well-educated. When the Affordable Care Act passed, I was jubilant. I saw this as an opportunity to put Mercy into action. I jumped at the chance to help spread information about the ACA through Get Covered America in Georgia.

I gave my time and energy to helping get the word out at churches, on the streets, and by working 10 hours each week for more than two and a half months at our local Kmart. Through a mutual agreement with Kmart and Get Covered America, I was privileged to do an event at our local Kmart, where I set up a table and greeted customers, explaining the Affordable Care Act to local shoppers. Through these opportunities, I helped make contact with over 2,000 Georgians.

I look forward to working with Get Covered America again this year. I am also spreading the word about my state’s refusal to expand Medicare, and I’m working to ensure its expansion—because nobody should be left without health insurance.

Cecelia Smaha is an associate of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas South Central Community.