How the United States Supreme Court Saved My Life

Not to be overly dramatic, but for me the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act was a matter of life and death. Because the law was largely upheld, I will be able to continue receiving treatment for breast cancer.

I was one of the early beneficiaries of the law. When I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer late last year, I had no health insurance, which meant my options were extremely limited. No insurer would pick up someone in my circumstances. But luckily, the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan had already kicked in, and it made it possible for me to purchase insurance under a government program.

I was uninsured not because I’m a lazy, freeloading deadbeat but because my husband and I are self-employed. We had been purchasing health insurance on the individual market along with 6% of the rest of the population. But after exhausting all of our resources trying to keep up with premiums of $1,500 a month, we had no choice but to cancel it.

I can tell you that “Obamacare” — at least the part I’ve participated in — works. A week ago, I had a double mastectomy after five months of chemotherapy. I have been receiving outstanding care in West Hills — no death panels, no rationing, no waiting, no government officials telling my doctors what to do, no denials of tests or treatments, none of the stuff that the plan’s critics said would happen.

Six months ago, when I first wrote about my situation in this newspaper, I got hate mail from people who said I deserved to die. But there was also a lot of curiosity and a lot of encouragement and support. Much of the curiosity was from abroad. Canadians, French, Italian, British and Swiss cannot understand why healthcare reform is so politicized here; why most people don’t know anything about the Affordable Care Act; how we can be so cruel to one another; and why we criticize their healthcare systems.

As a result of that Op-Ed, I have been asked to share my story a lot. I have obliged because I feel it is my civic duty to pay it forward.

I never thought I’d get cancer. Nobody does. Once you get it, your life is turned upside down. For five months I underwent four hours of chemotherapy treatments once a week. The side effects were brutal. Then, just a week ago, I had surgery, which entailed a three-day hospital stay. I’m writing about this not because I want pity but to make the point that undergoing chemotherapy and major surgery for cancer is stressful enough without having to worry about being able to pay for it.

Most people do not have any idea what is in the Affordable Care Act, yet public opinion polls find that the majority of Americans are against it. The free press hasn’t done its job in reporting the facts. And the Republicans have done a far better job of spreading lies and scaring people than the Democrats have done educating people. It stuns me how many Americans believe erroneously that they will be kicked off their existing private healthcare plans if the law survives.

I’m immensely relieved that the Affordable Care Act survived the Supreme Court. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe. John Boehner and Mitt Romney are still determined to repeal the law, and they could succeed if Americans don’t educate themselves, and that doesn’t mean simply listening to the talking heads on Fox News. The Affordable Care Act is quite likely to affect your life at some point. And it may already have if, like me, you found yourself uninsured and facing a crisis, or if your post-college children couldn’t find jobs that provided them with health insurance.

Now is an excellent time to learn about the law. You might want to start at http://www.heathcare.gov, which has excellent information about what the Affordable Care Act does and doesn’t do. But wherever you go for information, take some time to understand this historical legislation before you comment.

Spike Dolomite Ward is an artist and heads a nonprofit arts education organization in Los Angeles. Her blog Health Hazards is at highdeductibles.blogspot.com. This post first appeared at latimes.com.

12 replies »

  1. “For others, the ability to have a timely surgery could also be a matter of life and death.”

    One word – triage.

  2. I’m on my mom’s insurance plan.

    I didn’t indicate that I think it’s wrong to get these peopled insured. But since you brought it up, yes, we’re anticipating that wait times will go up. What are people starting to do now, or what are we thinking of starting to do to prepare?

    Spike’s ability to pay is a matter of life and death. For others, the ability to have a timely surgery could also be a matter of life and death.

  3. “We’re going to bring millions more into an already overexerted system.”

    Better Ms. Ward and others die so the rest of us can get timely appointments?

    lauramontini, do you have employer paid, tax free, health insurance?

  4. “I am an opponent of the individual mandate of Obamacare, yet I believe in the preexisting conditions part.”


  5. Dr. Mike, somethings wrong with a $2500 deductible for $300/mth for a family of four and $1500/mth for two people (Ms. Ward’s). I can’t believe $2500 by itself makes that much difference??

  6. Over the course of time, I’ve seen mixed messages from ACA supporters on how much attention Americans should pay to this law. Some say that the majority of people aren’t even going to be affected by it — it’s only the 30 million newly insured who will feel the effects.

    The claim is obviously a weak attempt by supporters to get critics off their backs. But what they’re saying when they say this is that they prefer your apathy over your opposition.

    And in many cases, I feel like it’s what they’re getting.

    Healthy friends and family of mine who have non-health care related jobs and who have employer-sponsored insurance haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to what’s been going on these past few weeks.

    I prefer Spike’s message: “The Affordable Care Act is quite likely to affect your life at some point.”

    We’re going to bring millions more into an already overexerted system. And we don’t know what’s going to happen. Readers of this blog know the law actually will affect everyone in this country.

    Constructive opposition is much better than apathy. Different voices — especially from members of the public that this is going to affect — will help us move forward and shape this law. It’s what we’ve got, for now.

    On a separate note, putting the rest of the law aside, so many of us agree on the preexisting conditions part. I feel for those who have a sinking feeling when they think about the November election and what it might mean for their ability to pay for lifesaving treatments going forward.

  7. Thanks for posting! I just think you might want to have a look at some of the other pages tucked into the 2400 page law. One of them is the medical device excise tax, which is likely to have a significant economic impact on medical device companies ability to produce innovative technology for serious conditions. This may have a direct effect on you. Just a thought.

  8. @James- Out of curiosity, I’d really like to know what other ‘parts’ of the individual mandate you’re an opponent of. After all, the point Spike is making is that people aren’t so well-informed. Looking forward to your thoughts.

  9. I’m glad that PPACA has been good to you. I wish you well.
    My family approaches this a little differently. We recognize that comprehensive health insurance is a waste of money – both our own because of unreasonable premiums, and the insurers – because if we have the coverage, by george we are going to use it to “get our money’s worth.” So we purchased major medical. $2,500 deductible, covers hospitilization and cancer care. $300/mo for a family of 4. PPACA means nothing more to us than an opportunity to pay a penality until our policy is no longer offered and then hoping to see what remains that is affordable. We will not be paying $15,000 per year for comprehensive insurance we do not need

  10. I’m not the first to say this, but how would not excluding for pre-existing conditions work, without either universal or mandatory insurance? Now that the insurance pool includes riskier patients (those with pre-existing conditions), the cost for everyone will only go up, unless more individuals participate.

    Freedom, apple pie, stars and stripes; that’s all great, and I’m all for it. But, to draw an extreme, this isn’t an anarchy. Requiring insurance (whether individual mandate, or as other competitive economies have figured out, some sort of universal health) is a perfectly rational, if not only rational solution. Healthcare “choice” isn’t like being able to choose iPhone vs Android or Wendy’s vs McDonalds. It’s a fundamental foundation, like education, that’s required for modern society. If you’re sick, or have a loved one that’s sick, nothing else matters.

  11. I would like to know what the deductibles, coinsurance, and coverage looks like for you.

    I am an opponent of the individual mandate of Obamacare, yet I believe in the preexisting conditions part.

    Regardless, keep fighting the good fight and beat the cancer into remission! Be strong, live well, and God speed.