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Eric de la Cruz--Victim of Broken Health Care System

Asian Journal, Dymphna Calica-La Putt Posted: Sep 14, 2009

LAS VEGAS--Eric De La Cruz died on the day the United States was celebrating its 111th birthday. His death was symbolic because he was a victim of the "broken" health care insurance system in America.

On the day that everyone in the country was commemorating its freedom, Erics death served as a reminder of the flaws in the system that leave the hundreds of uninsured Americans no reason to celebrate.

Reform of the countrys healthcare system is what Erics sister Veronica was campaigning for when she came to Las Vegas last August 31, almost two months after Eric died.

"I am here to tell Erics story again and help change the (healthcare) system that failed him", Veronica told Asian Journal in a telephone interview.

A former CNN news anchor, Veronica has been telling her brothers story to audiences, in a bid to help the public and public officials understand the need for healthcare reform.

During Veronicas weeklong Las Vegas visit, she spoke with NV Sen. Harry Reid and NV Congresswoman Dina Titus to appeal for support in the ongoing healthcare reform debate in Congress.

Veronica said she was happy with her Las Vegas visit as she witnessed the great support during a vigil for health care reform at the University Medical Center last Sept. 3. But at the same time, her visit was also marked with sadness, as she was reminded of the place where her brothers ordeal began.

Las Vegas resident Eric was diagnosed with severe dilated cardiomyopathy in 2004. That time, the young Filipino American was in school and had a part time entry-level job in a company that did not offer health insurance.

Erics heart illnessa condition that makes heart muscles enlarged and weak--could be treated with a heart transplant. But since his was a pre-existing condition, no private insurers would cover the costly procedure. His only hope was Medicaid, the state-controlled health program for low-income individuals. But Nevada Medicaid rules did not allow the coverage to be extended to hospitals outside the state.

Since Nevada does not have a heart transplant center, Veronica began sending out messages on Twitter to exert public pressure and raise money for her brothers treatment. She gained a Twitter following of more than 6,000 people whom she called Erics Twitter Army.

As a result, Erics federal Medicare applicationhis best hope of coverage outside of Nevadawhich was initially denied, was granted and he won the coverage that was long awaited.

In addition, supporters were also able to raise close to $1 million that Eric needed in addition to the Medicare coverage.

Ecstatic, Veronica contacted a medical center in California, but the hospital insisted that her brother get a secondary insurance policy. Eventually, Veronica arranged for her brother to be seen by doctors at the University of Southern California Medical Center where he spent a week on the "high-priority transplant" list. But his condition had deteriorated so much that he soon became too sick for the procedure. On July 4, 2009 Eric De La Cruz died.

"He remained excluded from the basic right to life-saving treatment that all people deserve. Although a heart transplant would have saved him, without coverage, Erics condition needlessly and slowly deteriorated," Veronica recounted during her August 31 speech at the University of NevadaLas Vegas.

"In fighting for Erics life, thousands of people joined forces to get him on Medicare, get him into a transplant facility and raise enough money to pay for his treatment. He just ran out of time. But the clock has not stopped for you," she said. "Though Eric has passed away, he has not been silenced. Your voice can make the difference," she also said.

Veronica also recently spoke to audiences in New York and other parts of the country to tell Erics story. She said with the ongoing healthcare debate in Congress, people should be aware how it would affect them directly.

Veronica told Asian Journal the aim of her Las Vegas visit was to get a simple message to the public. That is "to join with the majority of Americans to support an affordable public option to lower costs, keep insurance companies honest and include everyone, regardless of pre-existing conditions or income."

"What happened to Eric, my mother, and me should not happen again to anyone," she said.

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