I was raised in a suburb of Pittsburgh in an average, middle class family with 5 brothers and 1 sister. We grew up to be average people, living average lives. I met my wife, Ginny, in 1990 through a friend. We couldn’t get married back in those days, so we had a big commitment ceremony with all of our friends and family a year later. We couldn’t wait to get married once it became legal. We’ve been together for 31 years and we live in a nice neighborhood with our 2 dogs and 2 cats.
In 2019, after 5 years of consulting with doctor after doctor trying to find the cause of debilitating pain in my face and ear, I was diagnosed with a rare and difficult cancer. As hard as it was to hear that I had cancer, it was a relief to finally know what was wrong. Then, in the middle of my treatments, I was told that my insurance provider, Highmark, and UPMC where the specialists were, would be “divorcing” and that I would no longer be able to see the doctors that were saving my life. I was also told that there were no in-network oncologists within two hours of Pittsburgh that were trained to treat my specific cancer. It appeared that I and thousands of others were on the brink of becoming collateral damage in a war between two non-profit hospital systems battling each other for market share. It was obvious that these non-profits didn’t care about their patients as much as they cared about making money, no matter the cost.
My Highmark insurance is provided through my wife’s employer. I researched changing my coverage to a UPMC plan, but found that doing so would increase my monthly healthcare cost by approximately $1000.00 with increased premium, deductible and copays. Changing insurance wasn’t an option given our financial circumstance. Mentally and emotionally I could not accept this; for me this was a matter of life and death.
In the past I had marched for causes that I believed in, but always as a follower. However, this was different. I called my local and state representatives inquiring as to how it could possibly be that these insurance giants could put their corporate interests ahead of people’s lives. Receiving no help there, I sought out others in my same situation. Together with community leaders and organizations we banded together and we created a movement that demanded that access to healthcare be put above corporate profits. After months of telephone calls, letter writing, rallies, and speeches, and just days before the divorce was to finalize, we won our battle – UPMC and Highmark agreed to continue working together in the best interest of the tax-payors that subsidize them. I was no longer just an average person, living an average life – I was a grassroots activist who, along with my compatriots, had defeated Goliath.