In the middle of the night two years ago, Senator Cory Gardner voted for the seventh time to repeal the Affordable Care Act. I know because I was up late, watching from home. There was no chance I’d go to bed before the vote happened, because, you see, I was in the middle of six months of grueling chemotherapy treatment for my stage 4 cancer (Hodgkin’s lymphoma). The Affordable Care Act was saving my life.
I was so excited when Senator John McCain voted down the GOP’s last attempt at a repeal that I accidentally kicked my trash can and scraped my toe. Bleeding around my kitchen, I didn’t even care. It meant, at least for a moment, that I could breathe again.
I've been mostly self-employed over the last decade and have had a variety of policies on the individual market. As I've learned more about insurance, I've realized they were mostly junk. Some of the insurance providers I used have been sued for dropping cancer patients after they became expensive, or refusing to cover treatments by shielding themselves in lawyers and red tape. That could have been me.
If I had received my cancer diagnosis before 2014, that would have been my story. I would be bankrupt or dead. But my story is a little happier.
Even before the Affordable Care Act, I would never go without insurance because I’ve seen what can happen without it. I moved to Arkansas about a decade ago and worked to pass the ACA. I met with people across the state who had suffered and sometimes had been forced to declare medical bankruptcy because of (or more like a lack of) insurance. Because of the horror stories I'd heard, I always knew that if anything serious happened to me, my own insurance company would probably weasel out of covering my care.
I was both grateful and relieved at the end of 2013 to sign up for an Obamacare policy on the individual market in Michigan, where I lived at the time. Even though it wasn’t necessarily cheap (I didn’t qualify for subsidies), I knew that it would provide coverage for major medical issues if I ever had them. One of every five people on the individual market are people like me: self-employed or small-business owners who do not have access to a large group policy.
I moved to Nevada at the beginning of 2017 and switched to a policy that was part of the state's individual market. That April I walked into a doctor’s office with a nagging cough and walked out with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis.
I am so grateful to my insurance, because it cost about a million dollars to keep me alive, but I still spent $12,579.08 out of pocket on medical expenses, not including a couple thousand on medical marijuana and over-the-counter drugs. I was able to pay that, and I stayed alive thanks to the ACA. But I have friends fighting cancer in other states who did not have an ACA policy, and they will be paying off medical bills for the rest of their lives. I thank God that insurance covered the two six-figure hospitalization bills I got.
Now I am in remission and living my life. I remember how the insurance market was before the ACA, and I know people who were crushed because of a lack of insurance. With encouragement from the Trump administration, several GOP elected officials are suing to declare the ACA unconstitutional and take us back to those days — and Trump's enablers in the Senate, like our own Cory Gardner, are doing nothing to stop him.
No insurance company would cover a person like me if they had the choice. Under the various GOP bills, they could either refuse to cover expensive treatments I might need if my cancer comes back or potentially charge me more than $100,000 a year in premiums as a metastatic cancer survivor. If my cancer returns I'd be broke. I’d be looking at a stem cell transplant and many weeks in the hospital in order to stay alive (and hopefully be in remission again). That’s not affordable for anybody except the 1 percent.
So at the end of last year, with the looming court case in mind, I looked at my options. At the time, there were only four states that had at least some pre-existing condition protections on the state level: New York, Massachusetts, Virginia and Colorado. I chose Denver, and here I am! But nobody should be forced to pick up and move their families and their lives just to be able to get the insurance they need.
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Gardner has voted repeatedly to put people like me in danger, and even today he would do it again. About 130 million Americans have a pre-existing condition, and we’re all at risk of falling victim to the Trump administration’s war on our care.
We need to expand access to affordable health care, not go backwards. We need elected officials who will stop these Republican-led attacks on our care. Lives depend on it, including mine.
Laura Packard is a small-business owner in Denver. She is a stage 4 cancer survivor, national co-chair of Health Care Voter, and founder of Voices of Health Care, a nonprofit focused on organizing adults with serious medical conditions.
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