Wilhelm: Listen to Iowans

BY GUEST COLUMN | MARCH 13, 2013 5:00 AM

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When asked about Iowans too poor to afford health insurance, Gov. Terry Branstad talks about health-care saving accounts, increasing co-pays, and people drinking at open bars at weddings.

While it’s not the governor’s fault that he has no idea what it is like to live in poverty, it is his fault when he refuses to help Iowans who do.

I wish Branstad heard the testimony I’ve heard from Iowans living without insurance.  One retired Iowa teacher broke down in tears while describing her adult daughter’s life without mental-health care.

These people are still Iowans, and Branstad is just as much their governor as the rich investors and business people who surround him.

Let me tell you the story of one of these people, someone I know very, very well.

As a young woman in her mid-20s, she was going through a difficult time. She was getting divorced, and she didn’t have much money.

She lived in a small Iowa town. No matter how hard she tried, the only job she could find was part-time work.

She was able to make ends meet but just barely. After paying for rent, gas, and groceries, there was nothing left.

Like many part-time and full-time Iowa jobs, her job did not include health insurance.

It happened that this young woman developed a medical problem. 

It was a painful, painful problem. Repeated doctor visits, visits she paid for out of pocket, did not solve the problem. She needed to have an operation.

That operation cost $3,000. That’s a good chunk of money now, and it was a whole lot more back then.

So, this young woman put off having that operation. She lived and worked in pain for several difficult months.

Finally, she saved enough money to afford the operation. She recovered, she got a full-time job, she remarried, she had children, and eventually, she was elected to the Iowa Senate.

Yes, I was one of those people Branstad feels free to laugh about. Some poor shlump living without health insurance.

There are tens of thousands of Mary Jo Wilhelms in Iowa right now, living without health insurance, each with their own story.

Some are in their 20s, some in their 40s. Many are taking care of children. Most are working. Some have several jobs and still can’t afford health insurance.

Instead of talking about open bars, cash bars, the failure of D.C. politicians, Branstad needs to start listening to Iowans.

Iowans who deserve to have access to affordable health care.

He’s the governor of Iowa.  We need him to start acting like it.

Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm

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