Wednesday, April 13, 2011

My Heart Surgery

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.

Some provisions have already taken effect. Most notably, I am now able to stay under my parents’ insurance policy until I am 26 years old. However, it is not until 2014 that insurance companies will be entirely prohibited from refusing to sell coverage or renew policies because of an individual’s pre-existing condition.

I was reminded of this current discriminatory policy still in place after I underwent minor heart surgery last Friday. Although I eat very healthy and stay very active, my annual visit to my primary care physician revealed I was born with something called Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

According to the American Heart Association , “WPW” is a heart condition in which there is an extra electrical pathway in the heart, resulting in episodes of rapid heart rate and, ultimately, can lead to cardiac arrest. Where a normal heart rate is 60-100 beats per minute, it was not uncommon for mine to escalate to 250 beats per minute or greater.

On Friday, I underwent a surgical procedure known as a catheter ablation, which involves inserting a tube (catheter) into an artery through a small cut near the groin up to the heart area. When the tip reaches the heart, the small area that is causing the fast heart rate is destroyed using a special type of energy called radiofrequency. Although there were a few complications, I did not need open heart surgery which is a true blessing!

Soon after my surgery, however, we received a “friendly” call from our health insurance provider stating that I now have a pre-existing condition (here we go again). This means that, aside from our inability to change insurance companies, we cannot even change insurance plans WITHIN the same company. Luckily, we did not mention that I am also a cancer survivor; otherwise they would have dropped our coverage soon after dropping our call!

With the 2012 presidential election unfolding, Republican leaders are reigniting the debate over healthcare reform, threatening to undo whatever progress we have made thus far. But if there is one thing that I have learned through my experience with cancer and my heart condition, it is this:

We can debate politics. We can debate immigration, energy, the economy, and even war. But what we cannot, and should not, debate over is people’s lives.

My family and I have suffered enough! Yet, instead of focusing on my recovery, we are only able to focus (and worry) about the exorbitant, and continually rising, costs of healthcare because I, once again, have another pre-existing condition.

Although we are fortunate enough to be able to pay our medical bills, how long will this last? What will happen if doctors find yet another thing wrong with me? And what of the millions in this country who are not as lucky, financially or medically, as I am? What will become of them?

So here’s to hoping that the Affordable Care Act isn’t repealed and is allowed to run its full course.

But until then, we better hope no one gets sick.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Got Leadership?

The Republican leadership is holding the government hostage. With control over the House, it is the Speaker and his party’s responsibility to propose and implement a budget that will keep the government functioning, while keeping our economy on track. Yet with the recent talks of a government shutdown, leadership in Congress has proven weak.

The current spending bill expires at the end of tomorrow. According to the Labor Department, if the government shuts down, the IRS will stop processing paper tax returns; the Small Business Administration will stop making loans; federal home loan guarantees will be put on hold; and over 800,000 government employees will be put on furlough. That means almost a million Americans won’t get a paycheck!

Some of the government's biggest jobs, like defense and medical research, would also take a hit. The Department of Defense says that U.S. troops would be paid through April 8, but after that, paychecks to members of the military, including those in war zones, would stop. The National Institutes of Health will stop accepting new patients, and put clinical trials on hold. The Environmental Protection Agency would stop reviewing environmental impact statements, which will slow crucial energy related projects. E-Verify, the Department of Homeland Security program that helps businesses determine the eligibility of employees, would be suspended, which could lead to hiring delays.

These are real impacts that will affect real people. We cannot afford a government shutdown.

Leaders on the right are blaming President Obama and the Democrats for not taking action sooner and, instead, focusing their efforts on “wasteful spending practices.” But when Democrats agreed to cut $33 billion from current spending levels, Republicans wanted more.

Yes we need to keep our budget in control, but at what cost? Even in these touch budget times, we must not take actions that will hurt our economy and halt whatever progress we have made.

"Don't believe that somehow the argument is about whether we should cut spending or not," Obama said. “Instead, the question is what to cut. We must target waste and unneeded programs while continuing to spend on innovation, education and rebuilding America's roads, bridges and other infrastructure.”

According to Republicans, focusing on clean energy issues, including wind and solar power, electric cars and energy efficient buildings; or educating our children by investing in education and innovation is “wasteful”. Yet these are essential factors that keep America prospering.

Last week, a report by the U.S. Labor Department says the economy is on the right track:

“Today’s employment report shows that private sector payrolls increased by 230,000 in March, marking 13 consecutive months of private employment growth. Private sector employers added 1.8 million jobs over that period, including more than half a million jobs in the last three months. The unemployment rate fell for the fourth straight month to 8.8 percent. The full percentage point drop in the unemployment rate over the past four months is the largest such decline since 1984.” This proves, most importantly, that the continued decrease in the unemployment rate is due to an increase in employment, rather than people leaving the labor force.

President Obama and his administration, whether through saving the U.S. auto-industry; holding Wall Street firms accountable for their actions; creating more college graduates with student loan reform; extending unemployment benefits for millions who lost their jobs with no fault of their own; ensuring tax cuts for 98% of working families; providing various incentives for small businesses who hire domestically; increasing investments in cleaner and more sustainable energy; or strengthening our infrastructure, is showing true leadership.

However, it is essential that we continue adding on to the progress we have made, thus far. This means that we should stop focusing on the political jargon used by many in Congress, and start focusing more on concrete actions.

Republicans now have control of the House. But where is the leadership?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Relay for Life: 2011

My name is Ashwani Jain, and this is my fourth year in a row attending and speaking here at Relay. If you do the math, that makes me a senior, and by contractual obligation, I have to say, “Go Terps!”

I’ve been through a lot in my life; hopefully more than most people have had to or ever will. When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed and treated for cancer. I went to the best doctors in the world and got the best treatment available. A lot of that is thanks to the wonderful work the American Cancer Society does to fund and conduct research that helps us better understand, prevent, and cure cancer.

Now, I’m not going to sugar coat it. Cancer sucked. We all know what cancer is, and what it does. And chances are that we all probably know someone who has dealt with it. But unless you actually have lived with it, there’s just no way to truly grasp how life-changing it is. Not only did my cancer affect me, but it affected my entire family. I still remember seeing my parents cry for the first time. I felt like I was on an episode of Oprah, but no one got a car or a free trip to Australia.

Of course, I was one of the lucky ones. Every year, millions are not able to win their fight against cancer. Tonight, we take this take to honor their memories, and celebrate their lives.

But even though I’ve been cancer free for 8 years, I still have several side effects from the treatment, many of which are incurable. All these prevent me from doing certain things that most 21 year olds should be able to do. Sometimes that makes me feel bad. I begin to ask, why did this have to happen to me? Even years after my treatment, my body is still feeling the pain. But why? I eat very healthy, stay very active, treat others with respect, listen to my parents, and I still can’t live a normal life.

Then I realize that we don’t always have control over the hand that we’re dealt. But what we do have control over is how we play those cards. So I keep a very positive mindset. Instead of comparing myself to others, and seeing what I don’t have, I look at what I do have. The mere fact that I am standing here today in front of all you is a true blessing. The fact that I have air in my lungs and am healthy is enough reason to be happy. Things could have been much worse. But they’re not.

You don’t need to have lived through what I have to understand this appreciation for life. As my good friend Albert Einstein, or Al as I called him, once said, there are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; or you can live as if everything is a miracle. This is why events like Relay are so important. Because they help people realize the beauty of life. If it wasn’t for the amount of money and awareness the American Cancer Society raises for cancer research, I would not be alive today.

So I thank you from the bottom of my heart for all your effort in making sure millions, like myself, are able to celebrate a birthday every single year. You guys are my heroes.

So, please, the next time you hop up out of bed, turn your swag on, look in the mirror and say wassup, do 3 things. 1) give thanks for waking up, because there are millions who may not be given that luxury; 2) show appreciation for the people in your life, as many are left to deal with their problems alone; 3) laugh, because without it, we forget why life is fun. Now as I leave, I want to quote something from one of the most profound, intellectual, and influential people of our time. Master Shi-fo from Kung fo Panda said, "Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift.”