Legendary tennis champion Billie Jean King knows how devastating this year has been—especially for people with chronic health conditions. King, 76, who was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2007, wasn’t able to attend much of the U.S. Open this year due to safety protocols. “Remember, this year more than ever: Champions Adjust,” she wrote on Twitter at the time. Just a few months earlier, the tennis center named after King was turned into a temporary hospital for COVID-19 patients.
Like many people, King also says the pandemic impacted her medical care. Although she normally has to go in for blood tests every six months, King tells SELF that her doctor cautioned her against coming into the office for this kind of routine care at the beginning of the pandemic. And she’s still hesitant about going to routine doctor’s appointments. “I’ve debated more than I usually do [about going in],” she says.
As we quickly approach Election Day in the U.S., SELF spoke with King about the state of health care in our country and why it’s so crucial to make sure everyone has access to quality health insurance—especially in the midst of a pandemic and recession that’s left millions of Americans without jobs. And, as someone with a chronic health condition, King is especially passionate about ensuring those with preexisting conditions are protected. Her answers have been edited and condensed for clarity.
I’ve been very lucky and the people I know have been very lucky. I know one person who’s gotten sick directly, but I’ve been very fortunate. I also had the privilege of talking to frontline workers during the U.S. Open, like clinical nurse specialist Sylvia Springer-Fahie.
She had gotten COVID, her husband had gotten COVID, and their 10-year-old autistic boy had it, and it was hard to explain social distancing, so that was really hard on them. But they all got better, which is good. But as she said, a lot of people have not made it. And we really have to do better.
All the feels 🥰
— US Open Tennis (@usopen) September 10, 2020
Health care is so vital to our well-being and it helps psychologically. People who are on insurance tend to go to the doctor and get what they need done [more than those who don’t have it]. And during COVID, I think most people have not gone as often in general. But when you have insurance, you tend to go, and that helps everybody in the long run because you won’t get sick as often and it won’t be as extreme usually. That’s what’s at stake here—it could be up to 133 million adults with pre-existing conditions [who are at risk of losing their health care protections].
Our country seems to struggle with health care, especially the cost. With people losing their jobs [during the pandemic], they’re not going to have health care. You can go to COBRA, but that’s expensive. The pandemic has made it very difficult for everyone.
A lot of people say they don’t have insurance. A lot of young people say, “I don’t have a job, I can’t afford [insurance], and I’m healthy right now.” So they think they don’t need to have it. But I don’t like that—I think everybody should and deserves to have their health care, because I travel a lot (before COVID) all over the world. In other countries, health care doesn’t cost as much and it seems like it works. Canadians shake their heads at us. I’m not smart enough or in it enough to know exactly what to do, but it just seems like everyone’s health should be a given.
With the Affordable Care Act, Biden wants to extend Medicare and have a public health insurance option for people. He understands that people want to have choices.
History when you read it is very fast, but when you live it is very slow. You can work for something and get something passed, like Roe v. Wade. It took decades and decades to do that, and it looks like it’s unraveling now. You have to start over sometimes.
And your generation is so important obviously for yourselves and for the future. With climate change it’s so obvious. Your age group, I think, better than any age group, gets that. We’re at a critical stage on that. We have to [take action], we just have to. I’m going to be gone soon, so I don’t have to worry about me. But for children and grandchildren and all those people, we have to.
Like with masks, it’s not about you only; it’s about you not getting somebody else sick. We’re voting for our country and the health of our country. It’s about thinking about the other person, not just yourself. Of course, you have to take care of yourself, but you should always think about your teammates and the other people in this country and the world. And I think if we vote for Joe Biden, the U.S. will take care of more people and will be a better place.