Friday January 24, 2014
I’m pleased to share the following guest blog from ACS CAN volunteer Board member, cancer survivor, and tireless patient advocate Lori Greenstein Bremner.
When I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia as a college student 36 years ago, I knew I was in the fight of my life. I spent the next five excruciating years undergoing aggressive chemotherapy, immunotherapy, bone marrow harvests, and more. My cancer has never returned, but since then I have waged an equally if not more difficult battle – a three-decade struggle to get quality, affordable health coverage.
I was denied coverage outright more times than I can count, and was regularly quoted sky-high prices for flimsy plans. Discussions with insurers effectively ended once I disclosed my previous cancer diagnosis. Often I had to dig into my savings account to pay for needed care. For 15 years I paid annual dues to a professional association just so I could access the association’s health coverage. I struggled to afford the plan’s constantly rising premiums and its $3,000 deductible, so I reduced the coverage and gave up trusted doctors every couple of years until I finally hit the plan’s floor.
As a single mom with three sons to put through college, I’ve had to make difficult choices about our lives and future. For decades, millions of uninsured and underinsured people across the country living with cancer or another pre-existing condition have had to make tough choices as well. It’s not surprising that high medical bills are a major cause of family bankruptcies, or that people have died because they could not afford lifesaving treatment. But now millions of us who struggled to find affordable coverage have options.
Provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) offer patients a choice of health plans sold in online marketplaces in every state. Each plan must cover essential benefits needed to prevent and treat cancer or another serious disease, and no plan can turn down someone with a pre-existing condition or charge them more than they would a healthy person. No one’s coverage can be revoked if they get sick or they hit an arbitrary annual or lifetime limit. Patients do not have to pay for preventive tests such as mammograms and colonoscopies, and many people with low or moderate incomes can get tax credits that help them afford coverage.
I’m now enrolled in a plan on California’s marketplace, CoveredCA.com. I’m paying $628 less per month for better coverage than I had before. And best of all, no one asked if I’ve ever had cancer as a condition of enrollment.
I had the privilege of telling my story on a media call organized by the White House yesterday. I spoke not only a cancer survivor, but also as a long-time American Cancer Society volunteer and a member of the ACS CAN national Board of Directors. I’m proud that ACS CAN and our public health partners fought for numerous provisions that are improving access to health care for cancer patients and survivors.
The law is not perfect – no law is – and not everyone will have as smooth an experience as I’ve had. But virtually all patients will receive more robust coverage than they had before the law went into effect. ACS CAN is making every effort to ensure the law’s patient protections work as intended. We are also encouraging members of Congress to find a way to work together to further improve the law. One thing is for certain – people like me cannot go back to the flawed health care system that made reform necessary. Our lives depend on it.