In her early twenties, Seana O’Reilly set out on a move to Paradise, California, far away from her home of Turin, Iowa, a tiny town on the western side of the state.. A new adventure brought opportunity for change and a new level of autonomy.
As is the case with many young adults, O’Reilly was hesitant to seek medical care, fearing the high costs. Even when her mother, Chere Fox-O’Reilly, noticed a drastic weight change in her daughter and urged her to see a doctor, O’Reilly didn’t want to take the financial risk.
“She just kept getting thinner and thinner and thinner, but she was working so hard to pay off her student loans,” Fox-O’Reilly said. “She wouldn’t take the time to go visit a doctor because she didn’t want to pay the deductible.”
Fox-O’Reilly was worried about her daughter, but she understood the pressure she was under to get her finances in order.
“She said, ‘I don’t want to spend the money and I don’t wanna take the time off of work,’” Fox-O’Reilly explained.
Fox-O’Reilly knew her daughter was not alone in this struggle, speaking to an entire generation hesitant about going to the doctor, knowing it can quickly result in a heavy financial burden.
“These young people, they just keep working through anything they can,” Fox-O’Reilly said. “Kids who can’t even afford the health care they have; they’re not getting the care they need.”
But Seana O’Reilly really did need to go to the doctor. Unbeknownst to her, she had Type-1 Diabetes, which would have explained the rapid weight loss her mother noticed.
Almost one year ago, Fox-O’Reilly received a call no parent ever wants to get. Her daughter, at 25, had passed away in her sleep.
“It’s not malpractice at any facility, or by any doctor,” Fox-O’Reilly explained. “These young kids have student loans and all these other concerns, they’ll do anything to not go to the doctor.”
From Fox-O’Reilly’s point of view, her daughter’s generation is caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to seeking medical care.
“You’re choosing at some point if you want to fix your car, go buy groceries, or go get something checked out. If you’ve met your deductible, you might as well get everything done you can,” Fox-O’Reilly said. “But if you’ve got these high deductibles, going to the doctor could quickly consume a large chunk of savings; it could make rent unaffordable.”
This is a cultural and political problem facing Americans today, Fox-O’Reilly said, and there must be legislative change to make sure people are worrying about the most important thing, their health. Despite working full-time in California, O’Reilly had an important deadline coming up.
“When she would have turned 26, she would have lost her coverage and it would have been nearly impossible for her to afford it,” Fox-O’Reilly explained.
Without the Affordable Care Act, that deadline would be even sooner; young adults would be responsible for their own health insurance once they leave home. But even with insurance, O’Reilly still avoided seeing a doctor for fear of out-of-pocket costs.
Fox-O’Reilly carries the weight of her daughter’s death every day. Like anyone in her shoes, she wonders what she could have done differently.
Now, Fox-O’Reilly is telling her story to fight for more progress and do what she can to make sure no one else has to live through the same experience.
“If we had universal coverage, I would still have my daughter,” she said.
By Josh Cook