On the evening of December 8, 2014 Victor Saldivar received a life-changing phone call from his doctor’s office. After having gone in for a CT scan on his liver and kidneys that morning, he got the call asking him to come in the next day. “I’m in trouble,” Victor thought.
The following day Victor found himself anxiously waiting in the exam room at his doctor’s office. The doctor walked in and point blank told him “You have kidney cancer. You have cancer in your kidney. You have a little small tumor in your kidney, and it’s cancerous.”
Sitting in the doctor’s office, Victor began trying to process the news. “I just didn’t know what to think. I was like, blank.” The cancer was particularly shocking to Victor because he hadn’t had any noticeable symptoms. The CT scan had been ordered following an unusual ultrasound and blood result after a routine physical exam.
When Victor received his diagnosis, he had health insurance. But, things had not always been that way for him. Victor grew up in Lark, Utah, a mining company town. As a child, preventive health care meant Victor and each of his 10 siblings were given a spoonful of cod liver oil and an orange wedge every day in the winter. As the mines began closing, the town of Lark was abandoned in 1978.
Victor eventually left Utah to attend cosmetology school in California, but found himself back in Utah shortly after to start his business as a hairdresser. At the beginning of his career, Victor enrolled in health insurance, but as his premium costs rose he eventually cancelled his insurance plan. In fact, Victor went 20 years without insurance. He felt that he simply couldn’t afford it at the time.
Over the years, Victor paid for his healthcare out of pocket or saw doctors at the Maliheh free clinic. After the Affordable Care Act Marketplace launched in 2013, Victor saw his opportunity to get health insurance. “I knew I needed something to cover me more.” Victor called the Insurance Marketplace and took his time considering plans with the representative. He eventually found a plan he was happy with and enrolled. Less than a year later, Victor received his cancer diagnosis.
Victor’s surgery was scheduled for January. With the weight of the upcoming surgery on his shoulders, the holidays were much quieter that year.
When the day of his surgery finally arrived, Victor went in and had the tumor removed laparoscopically with three small incisions. Victor returned home to recover in his recliner, but within a week and a half he was already feeling up to taking short trips out of the house.
Later follow-up doctor’s visits confirmed the success of the surgery and Victor returned to life as usual, but his perspective on health care was fundamentally changed. The fortunate timing of getting insurance coverage before the cancer was diagnosed was something Victor has thought about a great deal since then.
“If I didn’t have insurance and then we located this cancer, I probably would be writing my will and saying goodbye to friends. That’s what the doctor said too,” Victor explained.
Victor recognizes the struggle that many people across Utah face accessing affordable health care, because he’s been there himself. For years health insurance seemed an unaffordable luxury instead of a necessity for him. But receiving a cancer diagnosis completely changed Victor’s view on enrolling in insurance. For Victor, health insurance became the difference between life and death.
“Everyone should be insured. Everyone needs to be insured. I just think everyone should have health care. It makes me sad when people don’t have insurance. Because you don’t know what could happen. I had no idea I had this cancer. And like I said, if I didn’t have healthcare, I would have been fighting for my life six months ago and I probably would be getting ready to die. ‘Cause no one’s going to foot the bill.”
Shelley has a strong background in medicine, having practiced as an RN for 4 years. In fact health care is what initially brought her to Utah. Shelley moved to the state in 2001 to take a nursing job. But as life unfolded, and she chose to pursue other business opportunities both within and outside of the health care field, Shelley was unable to find affordable health insurance for her and her two children. She went without health insurance for six years. That changed in 2014, when health reform finally gave her an affordable option. She immediately enrolled her family in an insurance plan through the healthcare.gov marketplace.
Shelley was thankful for the new coverage for her family, but didn’t realize the extent of how necessary it would be until one evening at the end of December 2014. It was the first snowy day of the year and traffic was terrible. The combination of winter weather and holiday traffic created a frenzy on the roads. Shelley was turning left into the Redstone Shopping Center in Park City when a large Suburban accelerated through the intersection despite the red light, slamming into the small SUV that Shelley and her two kids were in. The impact spun Shelley’s car around on the icy road. Shelley, her children, and the occupants of the other car were all taken to the hospital.
The children thankfully sustained only minor injuries. They needed chiropractic care, but their Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance through their car insurance plan covered those costs. Shelley, however, was left with a severe concussion, whiplash, and a knee injury that later required surgery. For Shelley, having health insurance meant not needing to cover those costly medical bills out of her own pocket.
Despite her extensive health care experience, even Shelley was surprised by the financial burden of a car accident. “I just had taken for granted how costly a physical injury can be. Lost work, replacing the car, insurance; all of those things just really add up. So I was really grateful that I was covered,” Shelley explained.
Meztli’s mother Denisse tells the story in her own words of how health insurance helped save Meztli’s life...
When Meztli was about 3 months old she got really sick from a respiratory problem that is common in young children called “croup”. I was at work and my husband was taking care of Meztli. He kept giving me updates saying her cough was getting worse. I was thinking she was home sick with a bad cold and cough. When I got home I could see she was coughing almost nonstop and having a hard time breathing. Her skin color was almost purple.
I panicked when I saw her and decide I needed to take her to the emergency room. Once we got there, Meztli was transferred to Primary Children’s hospital almost instantly. She had to take an ambulance because she had to stay on oxygen. The swelling in her throat was making it hard for her to breathe and get the oxygen she needed. We were not allowed to drive her to the hospital. As soon as we got to the hospital, she continued on oxygen and was also given medication through a nebulizer.
This is something we were not expecting. Meztli is our second child and we had never had a baby this sick before. I’m just glad we were able to make the quick decisions that we did and not have to double think the situation. If we didn’t have health insurance, we would have waited to see how she did overnight and hoped for the best.
I don’t think our little Meztli would have survived over night without oxygen. It breaks my heart to think that way. Having health insurance didn’t only save her life but it also saved us from having medical debt. There is no way we would have been able to afford the medical bills. From the ambulance ride to the medical treatment. It adds up very quickly. I remember getting the bill for the ambulance ride it was about $1,500 and with insurance we only paid $300. There is no doubt having health insurance is important.