Asheville cancer survivor speaks out on Capitol Hill for health-care reform

Carolyn Comeau, an Asheville woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, made appearances in Washington, D.C., yesterday, with Democratic Party leaders to lobby for health-care reform.

Explaining her ordeal to cover the costs of health insurance, she said: “Plain and simple: It’s a broken system and it continues to leave a trail of families whose finances have been decimated by the system.”

Comeau made her plea for reform at a press conference with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others. You can see video of that conference here; Comeau speaks at the 20:15 mark.

And the full text of Comeau’s remarks is below.

Jon Elliston, managing editor

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CAROLYN COMEAU AT WASHINGTON, DC, PRESS CONFERENCE, MARCH 18, 2010:

Carolyn Comeau. Thank you. I’m Carolyn Comeau. I live in Asheville, North Carolina. I was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago at age 45. I got the diagnosis call as my husband was on an important job interview for a position that would allow us to have good, high-quality benefits. Thank heaven he got those benefits in that job. However, seven months later, he was laid off. He works in the construction industry, which was hard hit in our state—and laid off in the middle of my treatment. We had no choice but to get—then get benefits through COBRA and that was $1,058 a month for 18 months. We looked to the individual market for private-insurance, we did not qualify for Medicaid, and had a disastrous meeting with a representative from a company who quoted us $2,000-plus a month for me only. You feel, in a sense, tainted. Being a woman should not be a pre-existing condition.

It’s hard to describe the stress of going through a catastrophic illness and the side-effects of the treatment that you receive and worrying about the insurance mess at the same time and how you are going to make it through as a family. The light on the horizon that we thought we had was the North Carolina high-risk pool. I currently pay into that $400 a month. I have a $5,000 deductible. However, my oncologist’s office does—is not a member, is not affiliated with that program. And the latest update is that I just got word that there is an exclusionary policy with the high-risk pool for the genetic testing that my doctors want me to have, which would possibly impact my treatment and my future course as well as the futures of my children.

And the final highlight is that recently my husband and I did our taxes. And as we sat down and saw everything in black and white, we saw that very nearly half our income went to health-related costs. And that is just for me. My children are on the North Carolina CHIP program and my husband is uninsured.

So, the bottom line is—the reality: if you’re healthy, you get insurance. If you get sick, there’s no option—you then have a pre-existing condition, there is no place to turn. Insurance should help everyone, including those who need it. There’s no real option in a private market for people with pre-existing conditions. So I urge and urge strongly that Congress make the humane choice for our country and pass this health care reform bill. Plain and simple: It’s a broken system and it continues to leave a trail of families whose finances have been decimated by the system.

Thank you.

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About Jon Elliston
An Asheville-based mountain journalist: Former Mountain Xpress managing editor. Investigations and open government editor at Carolina Public Press. Senior contributing editor at WNC magazine.

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3 thoughts on “Asheville cancer survivor speaks out on Capitol Hill for health-care reform

  1. James P. Fisher

    Carolyn, you are amazing!Thank you for sharing this painful and personal experience with the world. I hope that anyone seeing your testimony sees how easily ANY of us could be in the same situation. This issue is not some abstract “national” one- it is the most locally important one imaginable. All of the negative noise on Health Care reform is blown away when real people with real experiences speak forcefully, as you have here….Keep on rockin’ !

  2. missemmalee

    I recently was diagnosed with Melanoma. We have insurance, but it’s still not enough. Thanks to my husbands job – at a hefty price, we are insured. Hundreds of dollars a month go to insurance.

    I have just begun treatment. We’ve already ripped through our Health Insurance deductible. That’s $5,000 that won’t go into my own business, that won’t buy an new car, and so many other things.

    I makes no sense, at all. If I ran my business the way the private sector is running the Health Insurance business, I’d be out on the street.

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