Mark Hoppus first met Ali Vatter during this summer's Blink-182 reunion tour, where she worked as a member of the catering crew. Not surprisingly, it was one of the toughest jobs you could have on a traveling rock-and-roll circus. She and a small crew were responsible for preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner for an army of techs, stagehands and drivers, not to mention keeping the talent — an ever-changing assortment of bands of all shapes and sizes and desires — fed and happy. The hours were long, and the pay wasn't great, but Vatter never complained. She loved her job.
But when the tour swung down to Florida, something changed. Vatter fell ill and was rushed to a hospital in Tampa. After 12 hours of tests, she learned that she needed to have her appendix out, immediately. She underwent surgery, and the Blink tour went on without her. But they didn't forget about her.
"I saw her every day on tour. She was part of the catering crew. ... They worked probably harder than anyone else on the tour. They were the first ones up in the morning, feeding everyone breakfast, and they had to prepare meals for, I don't know, 100 people a day," Hoppus said. "We talked to them pretty much more than anyone else on tour. ... And so, when she left the tour for a few days, and everyone was really concerned about her, we kept checking back: 'Is she doing better? Is she out of the hospital?' "
Eventually, Vatter returned to the tour — only she didn't seem like her usual effervescent self. Something was weighing on her ... and when the Blink shows finally wrapped, she finally told Hoppus what was wrong: Due to a pre-existing condition, she was deemed uninsurable by health-insurance providers, which meant that she was stuck with the bill from her surgery and subsequent hospitalization — a bill that totaled $42,850.
"At our Hollywood Palladium show ... she was really upset, saying, 'I just got my hospital bill and I don't know what I'm going to do. There's no way I can pay this back.' And it was really eye-opening to me," Hoppus said. "She can't afford to pay that. It's a life-threatening situation where she had to get her appendix removed. ... She had to have the surgery, but she has no way to pay it back whatsoever. So what's she going to do? Declare bankruptcy? Take out a loan? The reality is she has no means to pay that back right now."
Distressed, Vatter had started a Web site explaining her dilemma and asking for donations to help pay her medical bills. And Hoppus decided that he had to help. He let it be known that he would match every dollar donated to her cause. Slowly, the money started pouring in. But Hoppus didn't think that was enough. After all, Vatter was just one of some 12.6 million non-elderly Americans who are routinely denied health insurance. And he was determined to let people know about it.
He wrote an op-ed column for the Huffington Post, not just about Vatter, but about the millions like her. He's hoping that, in some small way, he can bring about change, not just in our health-care system, but in people's minds. He doesn't claim to have all the answers, and he's not offering up a solution to the problem — he's just hoping to appeal to people's common sense.
"I don't claim to know what the right thing to do is. I just know there's a huge problem that we need to get fixed. ... I don't get involved in politics all that much, but when I feel that something is blatantly wrong, I feel like I have to say something," he explained. "And after I spoke out about it, I got all these responses from people who are in the same situation. I got people that work every day and have gone five years without any insurance. And these aren't people who are relaxing at home, or too lazy to deal with it, these are people who work hard every day, and still can't get enough money together just for basic health-care coverage."
Hoppus said that he's been "amazed" by the outpouring of support for Vatter. He mentioned that the members of Fall Out Boy have pledged to make a donation to her cause. And he hopes that everyone — those on both sides of the ongoing health-care debate — can come together over her story. Because if they do, then they can never say they don't know an uninsured person, and perhaps then, they'd realize that the whole system is broken, and it must be fixed.
"There's been a lot in the news and everyone's talking about health-care reform, how many millions of uninsured Americans there are, and all these issues. And it's obviously important, but when it happens to someone you know and someone you work with, it takes on a whole new meaning," he said. "I think the issue gets so confused and convoluted when it goes through politicians and lobbyists and people trying to use scare tactics. It's really hard to get to the heart of the matter and boil it down and figure out what the answer is. Somebody needs to come with a clear head and make some hard decisions and get us to a place where people aren't working full-time jobs and living in desperate fear of getting sick and losing everything."