Scared to death

The recent national election and inauguration of a new President of the United States troubles me on many levels, but one issue in particular scares me to death…perhaps literally.

Even though the Affordable Care Ace (ACA) was based on a Republican-sponsored program instituted by then-Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Republicans in Congress have spent the last six years taking dozens of votes in an attempt to repeal the program. Most people agree their major motivation has been to obstruct any program or idea espoused by Democrats or former President Barack Obama. The new President already has taken steps to cut benefits of the ACA, and a Republican-controlled Congress is chomping at the bit to dismantle the ACA.

This hyper-partisanship threatens to rob tens of millions of Americans of affordable health insurance. There is an excellent Letter to the Editor in this week’s paper – which also can be found in the Opinion section on this Web site – that presents the facts and figures of the ACA and its value to the American people. I don’t want to repeat that, but I do want to share my story.

Nearly nine years ago, I was diagnosed with a heart condition. Fortunately it was diagnosed before it became life-threatening, but it was a chronic condition that required medical attention. I was lucky to have health insurance at the time, at a rate that was reasonably affordable for the owner of a small business. Those rates began to soar, however, and my status as having a pre-existing condition prevented me from obtaining any affordable insurance plan. I began paying out of pocket for medicines that cost upwards of $400 per month, and specialist visits and tests that cost thousands. At some point it simply became too much. I wasn’t old enough for Medicare, not poor enough for Medicaid, and not rich enough to self-pay the cost of medical care.

There was talk of implementation of the ACA, and I waited anxiously for it to become a reality. Finally I would be able to obtain insurance despite my pre-existing condition. And finally, I did. Unfortunately, damage had been done in the intervening years, and last spring, just weeks before I had a scheduled appointment with a cardiologist, my heart gave out.

We fortunately live in a region that offers some of the best health care in the world. I’m sure my life would have been saved whether or not I had insurance, but the cost of saving it would have pretty much destroyed it at the same time. Just one week in the cardiac intensive care unit cost nearly a half million dollars. Then there was another week in a skilled nursing center, and 36 weeks of rehab, and countless medications and doctor visits.

My story is not unique, especially for the owners of small businesses. Many, as well as millions who do not have insurance through their employers, are one catastrophic medical event away from losing everything.

Because of the ACA, we all rested easier for a time. Medicaid expansion extended coverage to the working poor. The ban on pre-existing conditions was eliminated. Lifetime caps on insurance coverage were a thing of the past. We were safe at last.

The pre-ACA world was one in which the uninsured, and even the insured in many cases, could lose their homes to pay medical bills, in which people often had to choose between buying food and buying medicine, in which people put off the preventive care that could save them from a medical condition discovered too late.

The pre-ACA world was a scary place for millions of Americans. It is not someplace we can return. In fighting to retain the ACA, we are literally fighting for our lives.