By BETSY TAYLOR
When Melinda Lopez of Las Vegas switched jobs as a flight attendant in 2015, she took a gamble that she'd be all right without health insurance. Making about $20,000 annually at the time, she didn't feel she could afford to pay her portion of plans offered through her employer.
About a year ago, she noticed a change to her right breast. She needed a medical evaluation, but didn't know what to do without health insurance. She and her sister began looking for organizations that might be willing to help her. "This is the first time in my life ever needing assistance. I didn't know where to go," she said.
Lopez's sister found the Responsible Early Detection program — better known as the R.E.D. Rose program — at one of Dignity Health's St. Rose Dominican hospitals in southern Nevada. The hospital partners with other organizations to provide free clinical breast exams, mammograms, ultrasounds, surgical consultations and biopsies to women and men without adequate health insurance. The program also gave Lopez information on how to sign up for health insurance. Lopez qualified for Medicaid in a state that had expanded the program as the nation worked to insure more people through the Affordable Care Act.
Lopez, 44, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March, and took an unpaid medical leave from her new job. She's undergone chemotherapy and a mastectomy, and she plans to have reconstructive surgery this year after she concludes radiation treatment.
She said there's no way she and her family members would have been able to pay her medical bills without insurance and the R.E.D. Rose program. "I would be probably dead if I didn't get this help — or completely broke," she said. She's concerned about what will happen if the Affordable Care Act is repealed. "I need to be under treatment for at least seven years," she said. And she worries about friends and strangers who need health insurance coverage provided through the ACA marketplace and Medicaid expansions. "I want them to have help if they can't afford it," she said.
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