There’s a saying among nurses and doctors—“only nice people get cancer.” While that can’t possibly be true, it often seems to be. Maybe it’s because when you have cancer or are really unwell in some other way, you just don’t want to argue—not with your doctor, not with your nurse, and certainly not with an insurance company or hospital. And yet, that’s the position that millions of sick Americans have found themselves in. It’s a situation that every generation for the past 100 years has tried, and failed, to correct. Until now.
Under the Affordable Care Act, every American will have access to health insurance by 2014. Insurance that can no longer be taken away when they are most in need; insurance that now has to make sure the vast majority of its premiums go to direct patient care instead of to bloated administrative staffs; insurance that those in difficult financial straits will now have help in obtaining.
The past several months’ news chatter about the Affordable Care Act had made arm-chair Constitutional scholars of just about all of us—Is it constitutional? Or isn’t it? Everyone seemed to have an opinion. We watched the ACA news coverage like it was the NBA draft, trying to figure out what the Supreme Court justices might decide the same way we compile a mental list of who the Miami Heat might draft. It was politics as sporting event.
But unlike the frivolity of assembling a sports team roster, the fates of millions of Americans were just decided by the Supreme Court and these Americans look an awful lot like our neighbors, our friends, and even ourselves. These are people, who under similar circumstances prior to the Affordable Care Act, would have been left uninsured and vulnerable. Here’s a sampling of just a few of those Americans who are being helped by the ACA:
--A 23 year old type I diabetic who decided to pursue graduate school who was able to stay on her parents’ insurance plan.
--A middle-aged woman who had a very real job raising five children and who won her battle with breast cancer a decade ago. Her husband is now retirement age and will go on Medicare, while she is still too young to qualify. She was able to get health insurance through the ACA.
--And, a vibrant, productive woman, whose kidney cancer was diagnosed shortly after her COBRA insurance ran out, was able to get a curative operation through the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan and then continue to get the follow up care she needs.
The U.S. government has been trying to figure out how to take care of sick Americans since the time X-rays were first introduced to medical practice and before there was even a single antibiotic to prescribe. Now we have MRIs and fluoroscopy and courses of chemotherapy that cost more than a home. Having the misfortune to be in a big accident or receive a potentially fatal diagnosis could easily bankrupt the most thrifty among us. Only the very wealthy would be able to financially weather not having health insurance if faced with a devastating diagnosis.
But today, thanks to the ACA, we have the beginnings of a system that will actually care for us when we are sick and attempt to keep us from getting sick in the first place. And if we should have the misfortune of getting sick, we won’t have to worry about arguing with our insurance company. Instead, we now will be able to focus our energies where they should be--battling the disease.