Commentary

The Affordable Care Act saved my life. What happens if it’s gone?

Supreme Court is poised to partially dismantle or end the law entirely

November 13, 2020 6:05 am

Demonstrators protest changes to the Affordable Care Act on June 22, 2017. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Three years ago I walked into a doctor’s office with a nagging cough, and walked out with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis. I’m here, today, because the Affordable Care Act saved my life. But now it’s under attack, again.

The care I received cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, money that most of us don’t have. Without it, I would be bankrupt or dead.

I’m a small business owner in Denver with a market-rate policy through the exchange. Before the ACA, I had junk insurance policies. There is no doubt in my mind that I would have hit benefit limits, or they would have used rescission to find an excuse to cancel my policy altogether.

I moved to Colorado because I must have insurance, in case my cancer comes back, or if I develop serious conditions from the treatments I went through or secondary cancers. Colorado has good state-level protections, but if the ACA goes away that may set off death spirals in the individual insurance markets regardless of whether you get subsidies or not.

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The dog may have finally caught the car, with the Supreme Court poised to partially dismantle or end the law entirely. President Donald Trump and Sen. Cory Gardner may be on their way out, but the threats remain.

Republicans have been on a crusade to end the Affordable Care Act ever since it was passed a decade ago. The day after my first chemotherapy treatment, Republicans in the House passed a repeal bill to end the insurance that was keeping me alive.

They came within one vote in the Senate that summer as well.

Trump blocked me on Twitter while trying to strip away my health care in 2017, but now the American people have spoken and he will be out the door.

We may have voted out many of the Republican elected officials that threatened our care, including my soon-to-be-former Sen. Cory Gardner, but their trail of destruction continues.

If the Republican-backed court case against the Affordable Care Act finally succeeds, and the Republican-controlled Senate under Mitch McConnell refuses to act to shore it up, what do people like me do? As a metastatic cancer survivor, I’m uninsurable without the ACA. No insurance company in the world would choose to cover me if they didn’t have to. There are approximately 135 million Americans with preexisting conditions (pre-COVID, which is in itself a preexisting condition), 17 million cancer survivors in America, and countless survivors of heart attacks, accidents and strokes. What happens if we’re all uninsurable?

Although the Supreme Court is not likely to rule until next spring, at that time the court’s decision could take effect immediately. There may be little that a President Biden or the states could do to mitigate the harms to people like me.

As a small business owner, I talked to a reporter in 2016 about hypotheticals. More than a year before I got sick, I was thinking about what we would have to do if Trump succeeded in ending the ACA.

The answers today are much the same as they were then: close my business and try to get a job with good health insurance, marry somebody with good health insurance, or immigrate to a country with a sane health care system. I can no longer take the risk of just going without insurance.

The idea of moving to another country is not realistic in a pandemic — who would even take us in? Do I close my small business and try to find a comparable well-paying job during a pandemic that provides good health care, within a massive spike of unemployment where millions more are also looking for work? My partner also has insurance through the ACA, so we’re both in the same boat.

As I go through open enrollment now (which ends Dec. 15 in most states), I’m choosing my insurance plan for next year — but how long will it last? Even still, coverage is more crucial than ever in the midst of a pandemic, so people should go to healthcare.gov and sign up now.

This is how people used to live. This is how we could be forced to live again. In the past, many people with survivable cancers just ran out of money and died. We can’t go back.

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Laura Packard
Laura Packard

Laura Packard is a stage 4 cancer survivor and Denver-based health care advocate, and founder of Health Care Voices, a nonprofit grassroots organization for adults with serious medical conditions.

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