Morgan Tweed

Morgan Tweed with his oncologist, Mathew Wehbe, at a check-up appointment on November 26.

An Iowa State student filed for bankruptcy because of medical debt. Now, because of the lack of access to health care he has now been diagnosed, for the third time, with cancer.

Morgan Tweed, graduate student majoring in architecture and landscape architecture, was diagnosed with stiff person syndrome (SPS) in March 2016, five years after he first noticed something was wrong. SPS is a rare neurological disorder. SPS causes muscle stiffness and episodes of painful muscle spasms and has left him using a wheelchair. Tweed knew there was something medically wrong with him back in 2011 but did not know it was anything serious until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2014. He was officially diagnosed with SPS last year, however depending on the doctor, the condition may or may not exist. The condition has been put on and removed from his chart many times.

“I believe the health care system is failing. On multiple levels there’s failure going on. On the very big political level it’s a money game, it’s not about helping people, and that mindset is screwing up all the other parts of it,” Tweed said. “I did file for bankruptcy. I was in debt for my first round of chemo. There’s no reason for it to be that expensive.”

The cost of medical bills was too much for Tweed and his husband. They filed for bankruptcy in 2016. Bankruptcy court records show that most of the debt was medical debt. The total cost of medical debt that was included in the bankruptcy filing was about $63,000. When Tweed was diagnosed with cancer, he said he spent seven months in the intensive care unit at Brackenridge Hospital in Austin, Texas, because he was allergic to the chemotherapy. He was in the hospital from February to August in 2014, and this is where most of the cost came from.

Tweed said he was only able to work for three weeks after being diagnosed with B-Cell Lymphoma. When he lost his job, he also lost his employer-based insurance.

“Filing for bankruptcy was a double-edged sword for me. It was super relieving to get all those people off my back because they say there’s no such thing as debtor’s prison but they’re lying,” Tweed said.“It was a huge weight off my chest, but at the same time I also realized it was ruining any chance of being able to rent a decent place and there's a number of jobs that won’t hire you if you’ve had bankruptcy recently. It was kind of great, but also hard becauseI'm going to ruin part of my future just to get these people off my back for something, I have no control over.”

Tweed said he writes angry letters to state representatives in Des Moines, and goes to protests related to health care.

Tweed thinks that just about any change to the current health care system would make a difference to him in the upcoming 2020 election. Tweed said he writes angry letters to state representatives in Des Moines and goes to protests related to health care.

“I would personally say let’s go ahead and switch the whole insurance thing off and actually pay for it via taxes,” Tweed said. “The system does work for other countries; we see it at work it works really well in Canada. There’s no reason we can’t accomplish it. I know it’s unlikely to happen, so insurance for all would be the next best thing.”

Right now, Tweed and his husband are lucky enough to qualify for Medicaid, especially since Tweed’s cancer has returned. However, they believe that when they start earning more money and they can actually pay their bills that Medicaid will be taken away.

“The medical system is hard enough to navigate,” Tweed said. “When you’re sick and scared, you shouldn’t have to be terrified they’re going to rip the rug out from under you.”

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