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Wooster resident a state and national advocate for health care coverage for all

Paula Chenevey has been sharing her private experience with life-threatening cancer in order to help put a personal face to the current health care debate.

Ellen Pill

"I just can't sit back and watch,” Paula Chenevey said. "Nothing will change if we don't speak up." Chenevey has been sharing her private experience with life-threatening cancer in order to help put a personal face to the current health care debate.
Chenevey said if one needs more reason for a strong health care program beyond the simple idea that everyone deserves a chance to be healthy, she suggested people think about the economy and the ability of the country itself to maintain and grow the status quo.
"You don't get a strong economy without strong, healthy people," Chenevey said. "There is no benefit to anyone if my neighbors are sick or injured or in an accident and don't have a way to get well."
She spoke of preventative measures as well. "Treating metastatic cancer (cancer that has grown and spread) is three times more costly than early treatment."
Chenevey's statistics focus on cancer because in 2012 she was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the time she was working two jobs, and she was uninsured.
"You don't think about being catastrophically ill," she said. That was before the Affordable Care Act.
"More frightening to me than the actual diagnosis was 'who will treat me? How will I pay for it?'"
Several private organizations helped pay for Chenevey's diagnostics. One of them, The Ohio Breast and Cervical Cancer Project, had its funds cut by $1 million in the 2018-19 budget proposal passed by the Ohio House of Representatives. The OBCCP also paid for 18 months of treatment for the breast cancer.
Then nine months after the treatment in 2014, Chenevey was on her way to a breast cancer fundraiser in Pennsylvania when she suddenly had a grand mal seizure. She was diagnosed with brain metastases. Four months after that liver metastases were found.
In January of 2014 Ohio accepted the Medicaid expansion that was offered to states through the Affordable Care Act. That allowed Chenevey to obtain assistance through Medicaid, which has been paying for her treatment ever since.
Chenevey's family used savings to live on because she has largely been unable to work, and ultimately when asked how the family survived, Chenevey's response was simply "family and friends."
Since going public with her story, there has been some backlash against Chenevey for being a Medicaid recipient. "People say things like, 'I'm a taxpayer, and I don't want my tax money paying for your bad choices.'"
Her response to such statements is "statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation show that 77 percent of Medicaid recipients are working. As a society we tend to look at someone who receives assistance as lazy or unambitious. That's just not true."
When the current administration was considering change or repeal of the Affordable Care Act, Chenevey responded to an online request from the Center for American Progress. The organization was looking for people to share their stories of how the Affordable Care Act had impacted their lives.
Chenevey responded and was contacted by the group and asked to make a commercial. That commercial was a springboard to articles in the Plain Dealer and Beacon Journal and a trip to Washington, D.C., where she appeared live on CNN with Nancy Pelosi and other congressional and medical representatives.
Chenevey spoke about how her life could be affected if Medicaid goes away or is changed. "I would be incurring a lot of debt, and medications could be denied to me. One of the medications costs $942. I pay $3.60 because of Medicaid. If Medicaid goes away or changes and I tell the pharmacy I can't afford the cost, they aren't going to give me the medicine. And all the lab tests, scans and MRIs would be less frequent."
Chenevey said Americans can ensure citizens have access to affordable health care. "Right now it's important to stay informed and call your senators," she said. "Let them know how important health care is to everyone. It shouldn't matter what your job is or your income or your placement in society. That's immaterial. Health care is a basic human right."
Sen. Rob Portman can be reached in Washington at 202-224-3353 and Sen. Sherrod Brown can be reached in Washington at 202-224-2315.
"This is not about politics at all," Chenevey said. "This is people's lives. It's not about me. There are millions of people with similar stories. And it's not just about people who are sick. There are injuries and accidents every day that include children. There are millions of reasons why you seek health care."

Published: May 17, 2017
New Article ID: 2017170519968