ELENA'S STORY: HOW THE ACA SAVED MY LIFE
My name is Elena and I am a 23 year old student from Oregon. In July I will begin my masters at Duke University School of Medicine and I aspire to become a physician someday. I was supposed to attend my masters program last year, but couldn't because I was diagnosed with Stage III Hodgkins Lymphoma. I do not have living parents, so my choices for healthcare coverage are either to ask my elderly grandmother (who lives on a fixed income) to double her high monthly premiums in order to include me on her plan, or find my own plan. Sadly, I am unable to afford either option on a limited student income, despite working full time throughout the summers and multiple part time jobs throughout each school year. Needless to say, when the ACA was enacted, I felt so thankful that I would be able to receive healthcare without forcing myself further into debt, thus compromising my financial future.
When I was diagnosed with advanced stage cancer at 22, I was absolutely terrified, not of dying, but at the idea that the cost of my illness would exceed my savings, thus preventing me from continuing my dream to become a physician - a dream I have worked toward since I was 12 years old. I have the ACA to thank for allowing me to receive outstanding treatment, without forcing me into substantial debt or preventing me from achieving my goals.
It terrifies me to think that if had I not been under the ACA/Oregon Health Plan last June, I would have been insured privately under the only policy I could afford, using student loans and on a student budget. This would have been a catastrophic health plan. I know this to be true because I was in the process of purchasing it prior to my diagnosis, when I thought I was moving to attend grad school. This type of plan would not have covered the diagnostic scan that ultimately revealed my illness and I would not have been able to afford this scan out of pocket. Let me clarify: I was not outright denied a diagnostic scan through that health plan. However, the reality is I would not have been able to pay for the portion of the scan because it was not covered by my insurance, therefore I would have been basically forced to not have it done. At the time of my diagnosis, my cancer had begun to compromise parts of my liver, making it very nearly Stage 4. Had I not received that scan, I likely would not have discovered my illness until it was too late for me. At 22 years old.
All of this is to say that when I stand here and tell you all that the ACA literally saved my life, it is not a hyperbolic statement. It is the truth.
So this is my point: GOP politicians say that the ACA has reduced Oregonians choices for healthcare. Yet they also claim that a great achievement of the first ACHA bill was that it would not allow insurance companies to deny care to individuals based on pre-existing conditions. Which is fine, great, so an insurance company can't tell me "no, we won't cover you because you had cancer at 22 despite being healthy and active all of your life" but they CAN charge me so much in premiums that I am excluded from health coverage. The ACHA will allow states to opt out of coverage or raise premiums for people with pre-existing conditions such as:
AIDS/HIV, lupus, alcohol abuse/drug abuse with recent treatment, severe mental disorders such as bipolar disorder or an eating disorder, Alzheimer's/dementia, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia and other inflammatory joint disease, muscular dystrophy, cancer, severe obesity, cerebral palsy, organ transplant, congestive heart failure, paraplegia, coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery, paralysis, Crohn's disease/ulcerative colitis, Parkinson's disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease/emphysema, pending surgery or hospitalization, diabetes mellitus, pneumocystis pneumonia, epilepsy, pregnancy or expectant parent, hemophilia, sleep apnea, hepatitis C, stroke, kidney disease, renal failure, transsexualism.
It will allow insurance companies to raise premiums so high, that I will not be able to afford coverage. It will take me right back to the place I was when I couldn't afford a diagnostic screening. How have my options not been substantially reduced here? The message I have received from our current administration is that because I have been afflicted by a disease and because I do not make enough money as a student, my life is less valuable than that of other Americans. It is personally devastating and unforgivable. There are counties in Oregon in which nearly a third of the population relies on the ACA and OHP to be able to see a doctor when something goes wrong and to have the right to a healthful life.
My story may seem oddly specific, but I know that it is not unique and that so many families are in considerably worse situations than I found myself in nearly a year ago. Taking this coverage away from Oregon families will quite literally result in unnecessarily prolong illness or death of many Oregonians. If you think that's an exaggeration, think of it this way: if the ACHA had passed and been enacted just one year ago, I likely would not be standing here today. I have a first hand understanding of flaws within the ACA, both as a patient, and as a student who has shadowed and interviewed many physicians on the exact topic. I support affordable health coverage for ALL families: low income, middle class, the considerably wealthy. No one should be denied healthcare due to cost or factors beyond their control. Yes, the ACA was flawed, but those flaws were not inherently impossible to fix. Instead, the current administration chose a bill that penalizes Americans for being sick, having children, and/or being a victim of assault.
As a woman who already qualifies for two of these categories and one day hopes to become a mother, I cannot help but be outraged and frightened by the pervading view that the dignity of human life and the right to a healthful life is less valuable than monetary gain.
You can follow Elena at @ekroberts17 on Twitter.