The tone of the letter was desperate. The writer, a man in his mid-40s, just learned that his wife had stomach cancer. The situation was grim, and not only because his wife, a 45-year-old woman and the mother of four young children, was very sick.

The couple had health insurance, the man said in his letter, but they were being denied the coverage for a surgery the doctors said was necessary for his wife to survive. He was desperate. What was he supposed to do? How would he get his wife the care she needed if the insurance they bought to protect them in just these circumstances wouldn’t pay for her medical care?

We can treat and manage illnesses today that years ago would have killed us. But without the ability to pay for care, and ...

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