Healthcare Voices: The story of Ruth Zaporta

Interview conducted January 20, 2017

Obamacare Health Insurance Saves Breast Cancer Victim

The death of her husband from cancer also signaled the end of health insurance for Ruth Zaporta and her two children. That was in 2015.

Uninsured, grieving, and struggling to get by as a single mom receiving Social Security survivor benefits, Ruth could no longer afford to pay for health insurance.

As the months wore on, Ruth says she became more and more tired. She felt less and less well. She told herself it was stress and grief. A concerned friend told her about the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council’s program which assists individuals to enroll in health insurance sold through New York State’s health insurance exchange.

“I called the number and reached out to Stacy Villagran,” said Ruth. Stacy directs the agency’s Navigator Program and is an expert at determining individuals’ eligibility for insurance, including the tax credits and cost-sharing benefits for which low-income families are eligible. “I tried to enroll through the online marketplace, but I kept messing up,” said Ruth. “Stacy talked with me on the phone, took all my information, and ran it through the computer and found out I was eligible for Medicaid.”

Newly insured, Ruth went for a physical in January 2016 to get to the root of her extreme fatigue. She was shocked to be diagnosed with a blood disorder called Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP). This is a chronic condition in which the immune system destroys platelets, not allowing the blood to clot properly.

The slightest bump or injury could lead to hemorrhage. She now visits a hematologist every two weeks to keep an eye on her platelet count.

Then in June of the same year, she decided to go for a well-woman gynecological exam. That is when the lumps in her breast were found. A biopsy confirmed cancer and on June 8, at 31 years old, Ruth underwent a bi-lateral mastectomy. She now takes oral Tamoxifen to help prevent a recurrence.

“Without insurance, I could not afford my medications, or see the oncologist and hematologist. I have blood work done every two weeks,” says Ruth.

The recounting of her story is very emotional for Ruth. She is still grieving the loss of her husband and worrying constantly about the health and emotional well-being of her two children who are now eight and 12 years old.

“My son does not do well in school because he says he can’t concentrate. He is always worrying about me. My daughter suffers from anger issues and a possible eating disorder.” These children have been through a lot, but so has Ruth.

Changes to the Affordable Care Act could make Ruth’s burdens even greater.

That’s because under current rules, the Social Security income Ruth receives for her children is not counted as part of her household income. Without that budgeting rule, Ruth’s premiums would skyrocket to as high as $1,077 a month for her and her children.

“That would be devastating to me,” said Ruth

Ruth’s message to Congress is this: “I am a sole caregiver. I do not know what I would do without my health insurance. Give me and others like me the opportunity to keep our insurance. Healthcare is a right and a lot of us don’t have the privilege to be healthy.”