Man with a new, healthy heart says Obamacare saved his life

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An Olathe man says the health care law saved his life. Once Mike O'Dell was able to get health insurance on January 1, he was able to go on the transplant waiting list, and he now has a new heart.

On Thursday, O'Dell hugged his three children as he saw them for the first time since receiving the new heart last week at Saint Luke's Hospital.

Back in December, O'Dell, age 41, didn't think it could happen.

"I thought I'd deteriorate and eventually I'd pass away. It's just been -- it's been tough," said O'Dell.

He couldn't afford a transplant. He qualified for Kansas Medicaid coverage for those with high medical expenses, but he couldn't meet the spenddown requirements to have continuous coverage.

"While we could have done the transplant even without charging him, the medication he would never be able to afford," said Dr. Andrew Kao, his heart specialist.

Anti-rejection medicine costs $4,000 a month and must be taken daily to keep the new heart.

"I didn't want them giving me somebody else's gift and I couldn't afford to have it," said O'Dell.

He couldn't get private health insurance because of his pre-existing heart condition. But as of January 1, with the health care law, insurers can no longer deny coverage. O'Dell and his wife were able to get coverage through the health insurance marketplace for $190 a month. That allowed him to go on the transplant waiting list.

"He wouldn't be here with me or my children if it weren't for the Obamacare," said O'Dell's wife, Kate.

And his doctors say he clearly wouldn't have lived long if he hadn't received the gift of a stranger's heart last week.

"Kinda like winning the lottery," said O'Dell.

He could go home from the hospital early next week.

An infection struck O'Dell's heart three years ago. He said before that, he was perfectly healthy and didn't think he needed health insurance. He says now, he knows differently.

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    • DanMingo

      HAHA. You hate Obamacare, and that they got insurance for only $190/month.
      All the lies and misinformation in the world won’t work.
      Whatever the deductible is, before Obamacare, no insurance at any deductible, and certain death.
      For only $190/month he gets to live. A bargain at any deductible.

    • deminimis

      Regardless of what the deductible is, he has a new heart, and more time with his family. They don’t require you to pay the deductible up front, it is just taken off of the amount that the insurance pays, and the patient pays the hospital through a payment plan normally.

      Secondly, do you think that he is worse off paying a deductible, or if he had to cover the entire procedure, plus 4000 per month for the anti-rejection medicine?

      • DC

        If his deductible is:
        4,000. – he would need to pay 333. per month
        5,000. – he would need to pay 416. per month
        6,000. – he would need to pay 500. per month

        If he’s on disability, that is a lot of money.

  • Jessica G

    Fox4, I’m a loyal viewer and am upset with a huge piece that should have been added to this story! It wouldn’t have mattered that this man did/didn’t have insurance had it not been for the Donor and his/her family that gave this guy new life! Would have liked to have seen a thank you and/or a link to Midwest Transplant Network to get the word out about organ donation (Feb 14th is National Donor Day). There are far too many that are unlucky that aren’t able to get the organ they need-this man should be thankful for more than just Obamacare.

      • Lydia Seibert

        Ellen, and as those children grow up WITH their father’s guidance, will think often of that priceless gift, unlike Dick Cheney, who Quote: “Never gives him (his donor and his family) a second thought.”

    • Corn

      The story was just a puff piece for the ACA – the headline alone is the story. Meryl Lin McKean has never provided an honest assessment of health “care” versus the ACA. As the ACA problems continue to be exposed, evidence alone in Obama pushing back mandates, there must be more stories to promote the ACA if you are a “believer”.

      • James F. Crowley

        You sir are simply another gullible true believer in good old idiot Ronnie Raegan & his modern day republican fanatics. The math doesn’t work / ? My own 28 year old son is looking for work while contracting out for jobs on a project by project basis. He also takes other jobs outside of his field whenever possible. He even takes courses within his field attempting to make contacts & advance his own future. Despite this he does not earn nearly enough to live on. Until Obamacare my wife was helping him out to pay for what was basically DISASTER INSURANCE. Until the ACA took effect. Now for approximately the same premium ($112/Month) he is fully insured for drugs, hospital, Dr. visits, mental health & all the other essential ingredients that health insurance must cover to offer a policy under the ACA. He has a lifelong mental disability which requires a good deal of drugs. His last monthly cost for his medications was ZERO because of the ACA. The truth is my wife & kids have been supporters of Obama care (or is that Obama cares ?) from day one of the debates. We prefer single payor but as a start the ACA is a wonderful thing. IUnfortunately for you brain washed righties it will take a personal mis- fortune or tragedy before you will discover reality. Hopefully that won’t happen to you but I would not bet on it were I you. In the meantime keep supporting those politicians who are only interested in protecting the interests of their big insurance donors. They don’t give a rip about you & never will. You & your fellow righties are no more than a SUCKER who keeps the cash flow coming their way. Wise up if that’s at all possible you are putting us ALL at risk.

  • Michelle

    Chris, people like you need to be more informed before making a comment like that. You put everyone in the same box. I hope you dont ever have to be put in his situation. Yes, there are people who take advantage of the system and milk it for all its worth but there are people, like my brother, who need it once in awhile. He has more than paid his taxes into the system, why shouldnt he receive a little back. My family and I are extremely grateful that my brother got the care and help he needed.

    • Corn

      But you are wrong, the ACA is not working and the irony of this story is that it actually PROVES it doesn’t work. The math simply will not work. ACA is about insurance, not health care. Its about taking from others and gaining power in the process. Government adds more to the cost of health care than it reduces but only attacked insurance as the problem. I no more get my health care from Blue Cross than I get my car from GEICO.

      • andsoitgoes

        You did not seriously just compare health care to car insurance? Are you a complete fool?

        A car is replaceable, people are not.

        Mentalities like yours make me glad, every day, that I’m an Expat living in Canada. The hell I constantly see with my family currently and my parents I’ve lost , leaving crushing amounts of deductible to be paid for incredibly high cost medical procedures and medication.

        In this story, say all goes to hell and he doesn’t make it, as NO surgery or procedure is a guarantee, especially a transplant like a heart, his family would have to mourn his loss. Without universal health care, they’d also be on line for the endless debt his surgery and procedures and medical bills would have put on them.

        The simple “pre existing condition” bull is something that makes insurance nothing more than a disgusting game, allowing insurers to deny claims that don’t match up their criteria. I’ve worked in insurance, I’ve seen the dark side and when bonuses and reprimands are on the line, deny is going to be a word the unscrupulous, and there are many, look towards.

        The only time I’ve had to deal with an outsider making decisions on my health through an insurance company was one of the worst things I’ve dealt with in my life. And, while they would never admit to any wrongdoing, their forcing me into inappropriate rehab has possibly damaged me for life, yet because of how they’ve handled it, it’s “above board”.

        All insurance isn’t bad, but when it’s fiscally motivated it almost always is.

  • NNNii

    The sick thing is the cost of the medication. There’s no reason it should cost $4000 per month. While the insurance companies are the biggest scam to hit our nation, the pharmaceutical companies are just out-and-out thieves.

    • Morgan

      You are right! And he will have to take them for the rest of his life so his body won’t reject the heart. And the costs of the meds are only going to go up along the years. It’s totally sick!

      • Corn

        Eventually people will figure out the math and find the real winners in the ACA – big pharma, and big government control of your life. Shame on Meryl Lin McKean for using this family as a tool to promote her flawed belief. A more compassionate story would have been last year as a call to individuals to assist through charity and actual human to human compassion.

  • Johnny rocket

    The total cost of that surgery was likely North of $1million. The problem with this set up is that you would need 500 people paying into the system but not using the system at all for 5 months to cover the cost of this one procedure. The dynamics just don’t work.

    • Corn

      What I picked up from the story is that the surgery cost itself was not the concern and that it likely would have occurred through charity – actual human to human charity. The issue is the pharma cost, which the ACA does nothing more than funnel more money to. So, in the end, charity was bypassed while the generous government program picked up the tab. The math simply will not work.

    • Corn

      Suggesting that an individual mandate would be required in order to keep Hillary Care from imploding the health industry is not the same as promoting government control of health insurance. The individual mandate is a response to the fact that the math simply will not work. Again, health insurance does not equal health care.

  • Jesse

    The bottom line: instead of a dying man, unable to contribute to the security of his family – and a burden on the community… We have someone who can go back to work and improve the standard of living for himself, his family… And his community.

    Therefore, Obama care is an investment that, when added together across the country, will make us stronger as a nation.

  • Sister

    That’s funny that you “have to have insurance” to get on a transplant list. Wouldn’t that be letting someone die willingly? As long as a person meets transplant waiting list criteria then they can get on it.
    I know someone who has had 2 double organ transplants and is on the waiting list for a 3rd transplant and does not have insurance. The docs at KU treat this person well. From unos: “Your health insurance also may not cover these expenses either. Talk to the transplant program’s financial counselor about any of your financial concerns before the transplant. You may also call the National Living Donor Assistance Center at (703)414-1600 or go to They help qualifying donors with uncovered expenses.

    Good luck Morgan!

    • Morgan

      Thank you Sister! I’m through KU also and I have all of my bases covered when it comes to the insurance portion of it. That’s great about your friend! I’m always so happy to hear other transplant stories. It gives me much hope when I hear them. I’m just getting anxious :) Many prayers and blessings to you and yours!

  • Jesse

    And I love internet conspiracy theories… Sure, you can dismiss this story as government propaganda simply because it doesn’t for your predetermined narrative…

    Also, there are monsters living under your bed

  • Jeff J

    Obamacare also saved my life. In my case it was cancer. Many people already owe their life to this life-saving piece of legislation. The states that embraced this law and have numerous choices through their exchange are helping the people of their state. However, other states (like Alabama) had state GOP legislators that rejected the law–and their citizens are suffering. Before the ACA. one person died in this country every five minutes, just for the simple fact they had no money or health insurance. For a supposedly Christian nation, this is unfathomable. It will be interesting to see these statistics play out. Before I got sick, I was a very right-leaning Republican–No more. God bless our President and this law!

    • Morgan

      Congratulations to you Jeff! I’m glad you are doing well in your recovery. I do hate to correct you on this but it totally saddens my heart. We are no longer a Christian nation. That went out the window many years ago :(

  • Mike

    I understand everyone’s opinion we are all at liberty to our own. I was never looking for a handout I was insured when I was diagnosed with myocarditis over three years ago. I was also cleared by my cardiologist, lost my job and never imagined I would require a new heart today. I am indebted to all the staff at Saint Luke’s Hospital, the transplant coordinators and especially the family that provided me a new heart. I was fortunate and I recognize the value of everything that has been done for me. All I wanted was a chance to be around for my kids. Obama care gave me that opportunity and I was just blessed the way it all came about.

    • Jeff J

      God Bless you Mike! My experience was very similar, different illness. You will be surprised as to the reaction of those you know, as I was. I lost a childhood friend of 45 years because of the simple fact this law (the ACA) saved my life. Many of my conservative so-called “friends” abandoned our “friendship”. Get well soon Mike! There are many of us out there.

  • Lance

    “..For 75 years, it was said that Roosevelt’s New Deal saved capitalism. By softening the rough edges of the free market capitalism with reforms such as social security and unemployment insurance, FDR may have prevented adoption of much more radical changes.

    75 years from today it is unlikely that anyone will think Obama saved market-priced medical care. Rather, he only prolonged it, and that will not be thought of as a good thing. In the developed world, market-priced medical care still exists only in the USA. It is only a matter of time until market-priced medical care joins communism, slavery, racial segregation and fascism as systems that no longer exist in developed nations.

    The USA is the last holdout with market-priced medical care not because of any inherent conservative or free market ideology. Rather, as the wealthiest nation that ever existed we are the last ones who can afford it. Switzerland was one of the last advanced economies to abandon market-priced medical care. It is arguably a greater bastion of conservatism than the USA. Switzerland’s women were not granted the right to vote until 1971.

    During the debate as to whether Switzerland would abandon market-priced medical care there was considerable concern about how it would affect the major Swiss pharmaceutical giants such as Hoffmann-La Roche (RHHBY) and Novartis (NVS) which was Sandoz prior to the merger with Ciba in 1996. However, it was then realized that the Swiss pharmaceutical giants made much of their profits in the American market.

    The reason that no nation, including the wealthiest can allow markets to set the prices of medical care indefinitely is that demand for medical care is inelastic. Demand for a good or service is inelastic if a percentage increase in price results in a smaller percentage decrease in the quantity demanded. Basic economics tells us that sellers facing inelastic demand will continuously raise prices until prices reach the elastic portion of the demand curve. Consequently in every developed country in the world, all goods or services with inelastic demand have their prices regulated by government. Medical care in the USA being the only exception…”

  • dan

    Where I live if I need a new heart I go on a waiting list then when it’s available its mine. It’s free. It’s New Zealand.
    Always been like this in my lifetime.
    American politics is a mess.
    Life and health is a human right

  • sapientstate

    Reblogged this on Sapient State and commented:
    Preexisting condition before January 1, 2014 would not allow Mike O’Dell’s heart transplant to be covered under private insurance. After January 1, 2014 he was covered under ObamaCare. The expense of the transplant and necessary (very expensive) anti rejection medications were/are now covered.

    • andsoitgoes

      Or, heaven forbid, your work offers crappy coverage, or you quit or get fired, you either have to pay out of pocket for your coverage or get stuck with a “pre-existing condition” when you try to get new insurance.

      And heaven forbid you have something but don’t know about it until you get examined.

      Your logic is ridiculous.

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