A trip to a hospital emergency room is inevitable for most people at some point in their lives.
But the visit is seldom memorable as long as the patient gets the care needed and there are no complications.
That was not the case for Sasha Czeh, who recalled how she attempted to avoid a trip to the emergency room by duct-taping the severed part of her toe to the rest of her foot. Czeh, who was 10 at the time, didn’t actually believe her homemade remedy was a long-term solution, she said.
What she did know, gathered from “whispered conversations that I wasn’t supposed to hear,” was that her family had no health insurance, and treatment for her mom’s breast cancer was already creating financial strain.
This was the first time Czeh felt forced to choose between finances and health. And though she later received the professional treatment needed to repair her severed toe, she would continue to find herself making sacrifices because of the costly health treatments for her family.
First it was her mom. Now it’s her 8-year-old son, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome as a result of his birth mother’s substance abuse and addiction.
Czeh recounted the uphill battle that she and her husband have fought since taking guardianship of the boy when he was 27 months old. Fighting for his treatment, and paying the skyrocketing bills, has reinforced her belief that the country’s health care system is broken.
Czeh, a city resident, was among about 60 people who gathered Saturday in downtown Frederick to demonstrate support for health care reform. Chants of “health care is a human right,” and “our fight is their fight” echoed down Market Street as the group marched from Baker Park to Carroll Creek Linear Park, where they gathered for a rally.
Speakers at the event, including Czeh, shared stories of how their own medical challenges, or those of family and friends, have forced them to choose between health and wealth.
Czeh recounted never-ending phone calls with her insurance company, a slew of surgeries for her son and paying out of pocket for medications not covered by their insurance. She quit her job as a public school teacher because her son’s condition requires that he be home-schooled.
James Van Kuilenburg, a 17-year-old transgender student at Gov. Thomas Johnson High School, spoke of the trans community’s difficulties accessing medical coverage. Even when they do, many health providers lack basic understanding of how to treat them, he said.
Jessia Feltz, owner of The Turning Point, Frederick’s Community Acupuncture, named numerous clients who seek $20 acupuncture treatments rather than pay $200 to see a physician.
“While I welcome the opportunity to serve the community ... these decisions shouldn’t be made under fear of financial ruin,” she told the crowd, who responded with cheers and applause.
Many held signs proclaiming “Medicare for All” and “We Support HR 676,” a reference to a bill filed in the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation, sponsored by Rep. John Conyers Jr., a Michigan Democrat, proposes a single-payer, Medicare-style system.
The cost of insurance for all, as proposed in the bill, would be covered through a combination of existing government revenue sources, increased income and excise taxes proportional to people’s earnings, and taxes on stock and bond transactions.
With the recent defeat of the Republican health care plan still fresh in people’s minds, a movement to a single-payer system is gaining traction, advocates said.
“A lot of people got a reality check,” said Beth Landry, referring to the prospect of a Republican-backed replacement to the Affordable Care Act.
Landry, chairwoman of the Frederick County Progressives and a registered nurse, said she’s supported a single-payer system for years.
But the high-profile battle over repealing and replacing “Obamacare” helped make the issue a hot topic for others, too.
Dr. Margaret Flowers, a Maryland physician who in 2016 ran as a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate, also highlighted the urgency of pushing Conyers’ bill forward.
“Are we going to tolerate this any longer?” Flowers asked the crowd. “We are really at a moment where we have to say ‘now,’” Flowers said.
The event was one of what Landry estimated was about 60 rallies taking place nationwide Saturday in recognition of National Day of Action for Health Care. Local chapters of Progressive Maryland and Health Care Is a Human Right Maryland organized the event with the Frederick County Progressives.