Kirk Wilenius, 22, is a caretaker for a 12-year-old boy named Jack who suffered from a stroke at age 4. The stroke caused severe brain damage and resulted in a complete deterioration of his motor functions.
"We watch cartoons and he lays in bed. That's fun, we have a lot of fun watching Spongebob Squarepants. But it's serious," Wilenius said, "He relies on his caretakers completely."
Wilenius, a recent graduate from Loyola Marymount University with a bachelor's degree in health sciences, hopes to forge a career in the medical field. The time he spends caring for Jack in his family's Los Angeles home is not only part of his required training to gain acceptance to a Physicians Assistant program, but also an experience that has helped to shape his opinion about healthcare in the United States.
Listen to Wilenius (pictured) speak more about his time with Jack here.
"We tried to go with this overarching healthcare system where everyone is covered but I feel that with the passing of the Affordable Care Act, all it really did was put people from a lower socioeconomic standing more at a disadvantage trying to pay for healthcare that still may be beyond their financial reach," Wilenius said.
While Jack's family gets by with private insurance and out-of-pocket payments, Wilenius sees the expenses stack up and feels that the Affordable Care Act does not do enough to ensure affordability for the lowest income brackets.
There's another reason Wilenius is so critical of the American healthcare system. He is a duel citizen of the United States and Canada. His family in Canada receives coverage from a universal healthcare system, and his uncle practiced as an medical doctor in Vancouver.
He pays close attention to what potential presidential nominees have in mind for alterations to the healthcare system. But while he sees his Canadian family enjoying the benefits of socialist healthcare, he does not see their system working as well stateside.
"You know, I agree that there are people that need government aid when it comes to healthcare. I've seen it firsthand that there are cases when people just do need help. But I don't agree with people like Bernie Sanders that are all about government aid because I feel like we'd be dug into a deeper hole with big government and dependency. There's gotta be a middle ground that helps more than harms," Wilenius said.
Another issue Wilenius has with the Affordable Care Act is the slash to doctors' reimbursement rates under the new legislature.
"I don't even want to become a doctor anymore; I'm looking into going to PA school because the pay cuts that came with the Affordable Care Act weren't as extreme for physicians' assistants. Or I might even go into the private side of things and work towards medical device sales," Wilenius said.
Wilenius does not, however, completely side with Republican presidential candidates who say their first act in office would be to repeal Obamacare and boost the private insurance sector.
"That won't get to the root of the problem here. Yeah I don't think the Affordable Care Act lives up to its potential, but let's not take aid away from those who are benefitting. Plus, I don't think that all the Republican candidates are looking at it in a way that puts disadvantaged people at the forefront," Wilenius said.
While it's a major issue for him and one that he feels affects the whole country, he sees even larger problems with some of the candidates.
"It's hard for me to agree with – and vote for – a candidate who may somewhat align with one or two of my big issues like healthcare but just isn't on the same moral standing as I am," Wilenius said.
He is referring to Republican candidate Donald Trump, who has been watched closely by the media and critiqued for less-than-moral actions like mocking a reporter with disabilities.
Wilenius says he could not stand in support of a candidate who does not respect, acknowledge, or prioritize minority groups, not only in terms of healthcare but in all facets of life.
"Just imagine Trump caring for or even being in the same room as Jack. He doesn't care enough to make sure Jack and disabled people like him are comfortable and well. Jack is completely dependent on his caretakers. He needs help all the time. Luckily his parents can afford the help he needs, but there are people without the means to support disadvantaged family members," Wilenius said.
For those reasons, Wilenius feels strongly that the candidate who gets his vote will be the candidate promising to raise the bar on fairness across government programs, including healthcare. And while he doesn't know exactly who he'd cast his ballot for today, he says he leans towards Hillary Clinton because of her experience and her sense of ethics, which in Wilenius' eyes "is definitely less bigoted than Trump."
"Reaching for equality is important to me, it's part of that moral standing I'm talking about. Everyone should be able to have healthcare – if they want to pay for it – but it shouldn't burden them and further disadvantage them," Wilenius said, "I'll vote for the person who really thinks about everyone."