Five days after Minnesota reported its first COVID-19 case, my fiancé Paul and I said “I do.”
We had planned to get married on New Year’s Eve, but 10 months before our big day we were calling every courthouse within 120 miles. Almost all were closed, but we got lucky. On March 20, just hours before county courts were ordered to close statewide, we were married at the Itasca County Courthouse in Grand Rapids.
This was not the wedding either of us had dreamed of, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic put things in perspective.
Like many other Minnesotans, I spent March trying to figure out how to pay the bills. I’m a small-business owner and I lost 90% of my income with the pandemic. Health care has always been my biggest expense, having lived with Type 1 diabetes for over 20 years.
Insulin is my oxygen; I die without it. For others, it’s their EpiPen or cancer drugs. High blood pressure medication, asthma inhalers, eye drops — for many Americans, access to these medications is the difference between life and death. In the last two decades, though, insulin prices have skyrocketed 1,200%. Other essential medications have experienced similar soaring price increases — a two-pack of EpiPens increased 500% from $56.64 in 2007 to $365.16 in 2016. The drugs haven’t changed, but corporate greed has.
This increase in health care prices was the reason I decided to run for Congress. We need to fix our broken health care system and make sure no one has to make the decision between feeding their family or getting lifesaving medical care.
Last year, I paid $10,532 in out-of-pocket costs associated with my Type 1 diabetes, even though I have insurance. Once the pandemic struck, I sat in my living room looking over my expenses, filled with dread. There was no way I could afford my next week of health costs. It felt like the walls of my apartment were closing in on me.
Enter my (now) husband’s grand idea — get a courthouse marriage as soon as possible so I could get on his health insurance plan. Instead of being surrounded by all of our friends and family members, our parents were our only witnesses. My mom helped me put on my veil in the parking lot. Instead of walking out of a chapel to confetti, rice and cheers, we walked out to empty streets and radio talk show hosts recounting the newest coronavirus projections.
Despite all this, I know I’m lucky. Not everyone has a loving fiancé with a great employer-sponsored health care plan. Not everybody has a safety net or a family member who can help them pay their bills. Before the pandemic, more than 40% of Americans couldn’t afford a $400 unexpected expense. Now, over 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment and the University of Minnesota is projecting that over 18 million will lose their health care.
People are dying in our country during this pandemic because they can’t afford their medical care. It’s unacceptable. I’ve been fighting for over two decades for affordable health care, and I plan to do the same in Congress. In the meantime, I count my blessings. I’m lucky to be quarantining with my best friend and now husband, Paul.
Quinn Reabe Nystrom is a DFL candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s Eighth District.