Read about Melanie here.
Following Melanie’s death, The Women’s Voices Board of Directors established a fund in her memory. Donations to the Shouse Fund are used to support our advocacy activities. To donate
Melanie Shouse is an example of how one voice can inspire others to raise their voices to bring about change. In her mid thirties Melanie owned a small business in a St. Louis suburb, was woefully under-insured and diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. While battling her cancer Melanie fought for better public transportation, worker’s rights, the environment, for the election of Barak Obama and, most notably, for quality, affordable health care for all.
Melanie was one of the founding members of the Women’s Voices health care advocacy group when we met in the kitchen of one of our founders, Ann Ruger and when we decided to join Missouri Health Care for all and work for the passage of a national health care law.
Melanie told her story at rallies, at meetings, and where ever people met to discuss providing affordable health insurance to all. Here she is seen at a rally in front of the offices of Anthem Blue Cross, September, 2009. The event, labeled “Big Insurance: Sick of It,” was sponsored by Missouri Health Care for America. Read Melanie’s statement and story of her illness at the end of this page.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in September, 2009 that as Melanie’s medical crisis was worsening her stance on health care remained strong.
In January 2010 Melanie entered hospice care and Women’s Voices president Barbara Finch wrote President Obama. In it she said we had two requests: The first is simple: would it be possible for you to send her a card or a personal note? It would mean the world to her. ..The second is harder: do not give up on efforts to reform the health insurance system in this country. We are so close. Nothing would be a better legacy for my friend Melanie.”
Melanie died in late January before President Obama could send a note and before health care legislation passed. On February 1, 2010 Mary Clemons wrote Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to continue the push toward the health bill. On February 5 The St. Louis Beacon published a moving tribute to her life. The Rabbi Susan Talve led a memorial service at Central Reform Congregation late February at which Women’s Voices president Barbara Finch made remarks.
Although President Obama missed sending a note before Melanie died, in response to the letters he sent a lovely condolence note to her family and began using her story in his speeches. The New York Times, Feb. 5, noted his remarks.
Health Care Rallies Intensify…
The Jan. 30 death of Women’s Voices member Melanie Shouse, who spent four years battling both breast cancer and her insurance company, has spurred activists across the country to ramp up their efforts for meaningful health care reform. Recently supporters on the East Coast launched a “March for Melanie,” starting in Philadelphia and ending in Washington, DC, to stress the need for access to affordable health insurance.
In St. Louis, members of progressive organizations took to the street on Feb. 17 in front of the Anthem Blue Cross-Blue Shield building to protest the insurer’s planned increase in premiums. One of the featured speakers was Women’s Voices treasurer Mary Clemons.
On Feb. 19, members of Women’s Voices joined other activists at Shaw Park in Clayton to build a memorial for Melanie Shouse and others who have died due to lack of access to health insurance. Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation, a Women’s Voices member, and other clergy spoke about the need for health care reform. WV member Romona Taylor-Williams told the crowd about Melanie’s remarkable influence as she worked to advance social justice on many fronts in this country.
The week of Feb. 22, health care activists marched from Philadelphia to Washington D.C. where they were met by hundreds of others from across the country. The “Melanie’s March ” organizers arranged a meeting with several senators. Women’s Voices member Romona Taylor Williams described the work of Melanie Shouse. Melanie’s partner Steve Hart presented Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid with a book containing thousands of letters of condolence. View videos of:
President’s Health Insurance Reform Rally – March, 2010
Several members of Women’s Voices were privileged to attend the invitation-only rally for President Barack Obama at St. Charles High School on Wednesday, March 10. The President was in Missouri to make the case for health insurance reform. He met with Melanie’s partner Steve following the event
Subscribers: Stacey Sickler, Policy Manager Faith Beyond Walls and coordinator for Missouri Health Care for All; Ruth Ehresman, Director of Health and Budget Policy at the Missouri Budget project
Melanie’s spirit still resonates in the arena of health care reform.
Melanie’s dream of a health reform law was realized when President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act March 23, 2010. But our work continues as we work to secure expansion of Medicaid in Missouri. We know that if Melanie was here today, she would have fallen into the coverage gap. At a rally in Jefferson City April 23, 2014, the Medicaid expansion coalition carried posters featuring people who have died for lack of insurance. Protesters, many dressed in black and carrying electric candles, talked to legislators about the importance of expanding Medicaid to cover more low-income Missourians.
“I carried a poster of Melanie Shouse, our very own Women’s Voices member who died at the age of 42 because she did not have adequate insurance to get treatment for breast cancer,” said Mary Clemons, president. “The photo showed a picture of Melanie with a megaphone, doing what she did so well—speaking out for health care for all.”
Under the direction of Rabbi Susan Talve, the group prayed for the estimated 700 people who die every year in Missouri while legislators put off expanding Medicaid. “We also prayed for our legislators,” Clemons said. “We prayed that their hearts would be opened and that they would expand Medicaid NOW.”
In addition to Clemons, Women’s Voices was represented by Sue Bohm, Jeanne Bubb, Nelda Carlisle-Gray, Sharon Hollander and Barbara Richter.
Melanie’s Story in her Own Words, September 9, 2009
My name is Melanie Shouse, and I am a breast cancer survivor. Four years ago, at age 37, I was an entrepreneur struggling to grow my small business, and only able to afford a catastrophic health insurance policy with co-pays and deductibles nearing ten thousand dollars. I had to take the ultimate risk with my health in order to chase the American Dream, like so many small business owners in America today. So when I first felt a small lump, denial seemed the only option available to me.
But as our nation has learned so painfully over the last eight years, denial only leads to catastrophe. In October 2005, I was forced to admit reality by walking into Siteman Cancer Center for the dreaded diagnosis. But by this time, the cancer had spread throughout my body to bone, lungs and liver. It was now classified as Stage 4 breast cancer, the kind you don’t recover from. My chance of survival was pegged at just 13% as a result of the delay in diagnosis and treatment caused by inadequate health coverage.
My worries were not limited to my health, however. I had no savings and no real assets to cover the monumental costs associated with these expensive treatments. And with this prize-winning pre-existing condition, I had no opportunity to seek a better private health plan, as I was now shut out of the market. Having no other choice, I quickly turned to our public Missouri Medicaid program, and within days I received this Medicaid card that would help save my life. Now I could walk into one of the top cancer centers in the world right up the street here and receive top-notch care without having to sell a kidney to cover the insurance deductible!
My treatment commenced post haste, and I am standing here today thanks to the Missouri Medicaid program, and the federal Medicare program for which I became eligible after a two-year waiting period. These efficient and effective public health plans have enabled me to receive some of the best cutting-edge care in the world, equivalent to the coverage our Senators and Congressmen enjoy, without ever having to wait or worry.
But even during these four years in chemotherapy, I am still being victimized by my insurance provider. I started my third round of chemo in May after a serious recurrence that almost took me down this spring. After two months on this new regimen, my health status has improved dramatically. But that didn’t stop THIS insurance company from sending me a “recission” letter this summer denying coverage for my new round of treatment which is approved for use in breast cancer. This treatment was recommended by my oncologist, a well-known cancer researcher at one of the top cancer institutions in the world right down the street here. The arrogance of insurance monopoly bureaucrats in overriding the medical decision of my treatment team is breathtaking, and I said just that in an appeal that I filed to Anthem last month. But I received this letter in response to my appeal, which again denies me coverage for this essential treatment. To paraphrase one of my favorite Congressmen Barney Frank in response to an inflamed “teabagger”, trying to reason with these insurance company bureaucrats is like trying to talk to a dining room table.
If I did not have access to Medicare and Medicaid, which are covering half the costs of my new therapy, it is quite possible that I would be unable to receive this essential treatment that has enabled me to continue living. I am sick and tired of watching the endless parade of right-wing ideologues disguised as “pundits” being shoved down our throats daily on the corporate media, shrieking and wailing as they denounce our successful public health programs and defend the indefensible status quo. It’s sickening to hear Republican politicians on C-SPAN every day defending the impunity of their corporate backers in the insurance monopoly to deny us coverage for no good reason other than their bottom line. Recent polls show that over 3/4 of Americans, including half of Republican voters, support REAL health care reform with a public plan option. And a new study by the authoritative New England Journal of Medicine shows that 72% of DOCTORS support the choice of a public plan. It’s time that We the People have our voices heard in the halls of Congress!
Now is the time to finally deliver on the change we have needed for so long. The American people don’t need bipartisanship; we need progress for America that will help save thousands of lives. We are SICK AND TIRED of the insurance monopoly using their Republican accomplices in Congress and the media to misinform and confuse the American people, and tell us that we CAN’T have a sensible health care system like every other modern country in the world provides for their people. We have waited too long for the change we need. We don’t have time to play political games that do nothing but fatten the already-bloated stock portfolios of insurance industry backers at the expense of America’s health. It’s time to trim down on insurance monopoly profits to get America in shape to lead! Now let’s get America covered; there’s no time to waste.