(Interview w/ family 11/2010. Oil on linen, 40 ins. x 30 ins.)
Jenny died in 2009. The Affordable Care Act had not yet become law. Pregnancy was a preexisting condition in 2009. The ACA outlawed this practice of discriminating against individuals based on what medical conditions insurer's found in a person's medical records.
Jenny had no access to prenatal care. When a hospital finally admitted a very sick Jenny who could not hold her head up, she delivered a stillborn baby and then died 2 weeks later. The hospital spent $1.5 million -- money the hospital will never see -- to escort a mother and her stillborn baby to the morgue.
We don't just get over it. I paint my subjects half in and half out of life when they die prematurely because they could not access healthcare. I am seeking out subjects, or their families in the case of the deceased, to get their thoughts years after our interviews. I interviewed Midge Hough, Jenny Fritts's mother-in-law, 11 years ago. The trauma the family lived through -- first losing their grandchild then watching their daughter-in-law die two weeks later -- is still very real.
"After all these years I see that photo and tears well up in my eyes. She was so young, her whole life before her and she died at the hands of the greedy insurance companies and our medical system. It’s still a tragedy to me. Jenny's husband has PTSD and recently had an attack remembering Jenny and their dead newborn. I’m grateful for the ACA but we need more for those still suffering. I try not to be bitter but my heart still hurts. Thank you for remembering her it means so much to us. "
Artist Note (3/2012)
Why is pregnancy a pre-existing condition? To understand this, one must look at our current system for accessing healthcare. Corporations sell insurance for a profit. That means that many insurance companies sell their stock. And those stocks must increase in value so the stockholders make money.
For-profit businesses must take in more money than they pay out. It makes perfect sense that a business will not insure a pregnant woman who comes knocking at their door asking them to sell a single policy just for her. The insurers will most likely pay out more in claims than they will collect in premium payments which will result in a loss to the business. Shareholders do not make money when a company pays out more than it earns.
But does it really make sense to have our access to healthcare linked to stock values and profits? This portrait story drives home that question.
Artist Note (2011)
Families of the deceased often wish me to name their loved ones as a way to honor them. This is Jenny Fritts, wife of Sean Fritts, and daughter-in-law to Midge and Dan Hough. Midge and Dan work tirelessly for health care reform.
(from a 2010 interview with Jenny's mother-in-law)
Young American Mother of 2 Year Old, Pregnant, Married, Age 24, Uninsured, Deceased
Jenny’s husband lost his construction job in New Jersey. His employment did not provide health insurance benefits for himself or his family.
The uninsured family moved to Illinois to look for work and to be closer to family when Jenny discovered she was pregnant.
Jenny's mother-in-law, also laid-off, tried and failed to buy insurance on the individual market for her pregnant daughter-in-law. Buying on the individual market means that a single person asks an insurance company to sell a policy to one person as opposed to a group of people. Employers form groups. About half the US population gets their health insurance through their jobs.
Individuals were subject to medical underwriting in 2009. Pregnancy was considered a pre-existing condition and grounds for not selling the Jenny health insurance.
Uninsured, Jenny sought care at free clinics but there was a 4-5 month waiting list for new patients. The young family had not lived in their new state long enough to establish residency. As an Illinois resident, Jenny would have qualified for Medicaid, a jointly funded federal /state medical assistance program.
The couple moved from Illinois to Indiana for a job opportunity. They applied for Medicaid in Indiana but the Jenny became very ill before the application could be processed.
Uninsured Jenny could not hold up her head. Her husband rushed her to the hospital. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) requires hospital emergency departments to stabilize a patient or transfer her to another medical facility. Jenny was treated for a cold and sent home.
Jenny's condition deteriorated. Her husband took her to a different emergency room and lied. "I forgot my insurance card," he said. The hospital admitted Jenny.
Jenny, now 7.5 months pregnant, had double pneumonia, septic shock, respiratory failure, heart attack, brain bleed, stroke. Two weeks later doctors delivered her stillborn baby girl. Jenny was put on life support where she remained for 50 days. Jenny remained undiagnosed.
Jenny Fritts died soon after the family agreed to take her off life support. The cost of Jenny's uncompensated care came to $1.5 million. She left behind a husband and 2 year old daughter.