Billie Jean King on Health Care, Climate Change, and the Coronavirus Pandemic

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.

SELF: How are you? How have you been during the pandemic?

Billie Jean King: 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.

With regards to health care, what’s at stake in this election?

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].

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