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We Will All Have a Pre-existing Condition Someday

Published in ChicagoNow, June 12, 2018

Let me share a healthcare story that happened to me some 25 years ago when insurance companies were allowed to discriminate against people who had a preexisting condition. My husband and I were healthy and in our late forties. He was a self-employed physician and I worked for a small not-for-profit that didn’t offer health insurance. We had private insurance coverage and had never made a substantial insurance claim. Yet, we were priced out of the market by the insurance industry.

I had a benign thyroid nodule since sometimes in my early thirties, easily treated by taking an inexpensive medication. My husband had experienced one episode of kidney stones. Our private insurance company refused to issue a new policy and would only give us coverage that excluded me from any disease involving my thyroid and my husband from any illness involving his kidneys. And our rates were raised substantially. Thyroid or kidney cancer would have bankrupted us.

We were very lucky to be accepted for a state policy that covered people who were uninsurable. It cost us $24,000 a year, which would be $41,613 in today’s dollars. If you think you are young and fortunate enough to go without insurance or that you do not have a preexisting condition, think again. There is a reason folks look forward to becoming eligible for Medicare.

The Justice Department under Jeff Sessions, with the blessing of Donald Trump, has decided not to defend the key provision in the Affordable Care Act that guarantees access to health insurance regardless of any medical conditions. That’s against the law. According to Newsweek, there have been “at least 70 Republican-led attempts to repeal, modify or otherwise curb the Affordable Care Act since its inception as law on March 23, 2010.” Until Congress changes the law, our executive branch is supposed to execute the provisions of the ACA, not execute those of us deemed to have preexisting conditions. The state of Texas, with the support of Trump and Sessions, has initiated a lawsuit declaring the ACA is unconstitutional and ending protection for people who have a preexisting condition.

Trump’s reversal of his campaign promise to protect people with pre-existing conditions puts over 52 million Americans under the age of 65 at risk. On a more personal level, he is hurting my children and grandchildren. I have two grandchildren on the autistic spectrum and one with cystic fibrosis. They didn’t ask to be born with these disabilities and their parents would gladly change places with families who don’t need to pay huge amounts for insurance to cover their children’s needs. It has been a struggle for my children to find insurance that covers the doctors my grandkids need under the current ACA rules. What will happen when insurance companies are no longer compelled to offer policies for children like my grandkids who have a preexisting condition?

Will this infant’s preexisting condition make her uninsurable?

As a just and caring society, it is our duty to ensure those who have a preexisting condition, from newborns in the NICU to people with chronic illnesses and lifelong disabilities, receive the healthcare they need. No family should have to declare bankruptcy to obtain treatment for a loved one with cancer. The one aspect of the ACA that most Americans agree is worth fighting for is ensuring that our fellow citizens with a preexisting condition cannot be denied insurance.

Regardless of your political persuasion, this effort to take us back to the era in which someone like me with a benign thyroid nodule could be denied coverage and then forced to pay an exorbitant amount for insurance and feel lucky to get it. So wrong. If you are a healthy person who is not yet eligible for Medicare, don’t kid yourself that this could never happen to you. I hope you never get sick enough to have a pre-existing condition. If you have a child or loved one with a disability, this change will mean an uncertain future for that person.

Healthcare is a right for all. Shamefully, the United States is the only of the top 51 highly developed countries without universal healthcare. When we don’t protect our fellow Americans who are sick or disabled, we are out of step with basic human decency.


by Laurie Levy
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