For most of 2005, Nathan Auldridge was a carefree college student. By the year’s end, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Today, he is cancer free and a caretaker for individuals living with disabilities.
He is also the chairman of the Salem Democratic Committee, and was recently chosen to serve on the Rules Committee for the Bernie Sanders Campaign at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia later this month.
Symptoms landed Auldridge in the James Madison University student health center his senior year, where he was diagnosed with migraines with bouts of nausea. To him, it made sense. His mother dealt with frequent migraines, as well as his sister. He popped Excedrin when he felt one coming on, and tried to live life as normally as he could. One night while driving he experienced a new symptom– double vision. He soon visited his eye doctor, and learned there was pressure on his optic nerve, and that he would need an MRI to learn the culprit.
From there, he learned he would soon need brain surgery. Auldridge, a 2002 Salem High School graduate, was on his father’s insurance at the time, which covered nearly all $450,000 worth of his medical debt and hospital bills. Now, at age 32, he is healthy, but dealing with the consequences of his illness, such as mild narcolepsy, which he controls with medication.
Auldridge, who served as a delegate for Virginia’s 9th Congressional District at the state convention, attributes his interest in politics to his medical history. It is for the same reason that he feels inspired to work in a field helping others dealing with medical issues and disabilities. He said much of his survival is due to the support of his family, but that some individuals aren’t as fortunate, and feel alone in their struggles. He said he doesn’t know if he will ever run for office, but through his own experience and the experiences of others like him, he is inspired to keep fighting for political change.
“I understand that being in a situation where you are especially vulnerable, you need help with basic activities in daily life,” Auldridge said. “My clients need care and assistance.”
For a while, Auldridge was paying $1,203 a month for his narcolepsy medication, a figure that was hard to keep up with on his modest paycheck. He said the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has improved his quality of life. Now, since being insured through the Health Insurance Marketplace, his deductible for medication and medical care is 10 percent of what it used to be, because of the income-based tax credits that bring down the cost of his monthly premium. It also protects him from insurance discrimination based on his pre-existing conditions. He said the change leaves him with more money to pay for other essentials, like rent and food.
While on the Rules Committee at the Democratic National Convention, Auldridge will work on setting party rules for the next four years.
“I plan on pushing to open the party up more to independents,” he said. “Essentially, I’m going to try to steer the Democratic Party in a more progressive and economically friendly direction for the majority of Americans. I’m going to continue to push for social reforms that we’ve already established, with same-sex marriage rights and so forth. I want to protect the Affordable Care Act and expand upon it.”
Though Auldridge will not have direct input on the act itself while he is on the Rules Committee, he said something he would like to see is a public option, where people can buy into the Medicaid system, use it as their insurer, and have it be accepted by all medical providers.
“It’s hard when individuals living with life-altering disabilities want to go see a dentist and the dentist won’t accept Medicaid. They have to jump through hoops to get their money,” Auldridge said. “Protecting against discrimination for pre-existing conditions is very important to me, personally.”
“No one at my income level can afford to spend 55 percent of it on healthcare,” he added. “They just can’t do it.”
Sanders officially endorsed Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, marking the end of his campaign run. However, his committee will still be at the convention pushing for progress. Auldridge said he will support Sanders in his decision to back Clinton.
A fundraiser is underway to fund his travels to Philadelphia. To support Auldridge, visit https://www.gofundme.com/nathantoconvention.