March 5, 2009

Whitehouse Shares Rhode Islanders’ Health Care Stories with President Obama

R.I. Senator Attends White House Summit on Health Care Reform

Washington, D.C. – For the past month, Rhode Islanders have been sending U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) their personal stories of frustration, worry, and heartbreak over a health care system that too often let them down. Today, Whitehouse shared a few of those stories with someone whose voice will be critical in the unfolding push for health care reform: President Barack Obama.

Whitehouse joined President Obama, health care providers, businesses, and other Members of Congress at a White House Forum on Health Reform, convened to discuss the challenges posed by the high cost of health care and the need to ensure that every American family has access to coverage.

“As I’ve traveled throughout Rhode Island, I’ve heard countless stories from Rhode Islanders struggling with the health care system,” Whitehouse wrote in a note to the President. “I recently set up a storyboard on my website so that Rhode Islanders could share their health care stories with me, and I have attached a few for you to read. They are powerful and heart-wrenching, and I hope that we can all keep them in the front of our minds as we undertake this major legislative endeavor.”

Whitehouse launched his online Health Care Storyboard at a community dinner in Warwick last month. The page, located at, features personal stories from Rhode Islanders who have struggled to find affordable health insurance for themselves or their families, or who have found themselves tangled in our dysfunctional health care bureaucracy. Since the page launched, dozens of people have written Whitehouse to share their frustration and concern with skyrocketing health care costs and difficulties with the system.

At the health care summit today, Whitehouse shared some of the messages posted on the Storyboard, from Rhode Islanders in Coventry, Cranston, East Providence, Hope Valley, Newport, North Scituate, Providence, West Kingston, West Warwick, and Woonsocket.

“I cannot afford to buy health care insurance on my own, and soon will be out of healthcare options. I have stopped taking my medications because I cannot afford them,” wrote Charles O., from Woonsocket. “I just hope I die before my savings run out.”

Yvette N. in Hope Valley, whose husband was diagnosed with a brain tumor, wrote: “We will make our choice at some point of foregoing treatment…and let the chips fall where they may. If we spent the money required to continue treatment without any degree of certainity [sic] that he would even get better, then I as his spouse would be left without any means at all. … The high cost of treatments are simply unimaginable and unsustainable.”

In West Warwick, Debbie O. said: “When my son graduated from college, he was taken off our health insurance, leaving him with none. He was able to keep the coverage through COBRA, but it was too expensive for a recent college graduate (with a job that does not provide health insurance). As much as we would like to, we cannot afford to pay for it either. What is he supposed to do?”

Joseph D. in Coventry wrote that his wife cannot afford to retire because of the high cost of health insurance. “If she were able to retire (with a low cost health plan) this would help put one person to work and pay taxes, and another able to enjoy a retirement.”

Marguerite V., an East Providence resident, wrote: “My husband and I are both doctors. This week a patient of mine (age 53) died from ovarian cancer because she refused to have surgery or chemotherapy due to lack of health insurance. This summer my daughter’s friend (age 26) died from a pulmonary embolus because she was afraid to go to the hospital with symptoms because she didn’t have health insurance. As more people lose their jobs, they also lose their health insurance. We must have universal coverage, and it should not be tied to employment.”

On February 23, Whitehouse read several messages from the Storyboard in a speech on the Senate floor to call attention to the flood of stories he had received. “If anyone believes we can afford to wait to fix the health care system, that this is not an urgent, crisis-level problem for the people of this country, I urge them to listen to what these Rhode Islanders had to say,” he said then. “These Rhode Islanders need us to listen. They need us to hear their stories. And they need us to get it – and to do something about it.”


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