We knew it was possible, but that didn’t in any way lessen the impact of those three words.
I have cancer.
Everything that was right and comfortable was in that instant washed away by a million questions with no answers. At a time when we needed nothing more than certainty and clarity, there was only confusion and doubt.
Upon landing in Philadelphia hours later, I called to see how she was doing with her newly diagnosed breast cancer. Feeling numb, I managed to make one other call soon after landing. Not to friends. Not to family. Instead, it was to our insurance company.
That’s right: Other than my wife, the one person I most wanted to speak to in the world was a Cigna call center operator.
We hadn’t even had a chance to meet with her oncologist to discuss potential courses of treatment, but we had questions because we had recently changed our plan to carry higher out-of-pocket costs and lower deductibles. We needed answers to those questions so we could go about worrying about more important things.
What procedures are covered? Are the doctors at the cancer center in plan? What is the maximum out of pocket? What other limits should we know about?
A 15-minute conversation later, we were comfortable that insurance wouldn’t be an issue and had a decent understanding of what our share of the costs would be. At a time of absolute fear and confusion, our insurer provided a moment of comfort and clarity.
That is the kind of financial and emotional stress that millions of people face every day in the United States. That is also the kind of financial and emotional security the Affordable Care Act was supposed to provide — especially to those who currently lack health insurance.
Instead, a botched website rollout coupled with millions of cancelled insurance plans has introduced significantly more fear, confusion and anger into the health system than previously existed.
Millions of Americans are being told they have to sign up for insurance under the Affordable Care Act or they will be fined. And millions more are receiving stark letters from insurance companies saying their plans have been cancelled because they don’t meet the requirements of the regulations drafted under Obamacare.
All of this just seven weeks before tens of millions of Americans were to be insured under the Affordable Care Act.
Our family expected to be among them. I left my job in June to start my own company, and our COBRA coverage runs through the end of 2014 — but we thought we could get a better plan that better meets our needs at a better cost by shopping through the exchanges.
Like untold numbers of others, we tried to sign up for health insurance. Like almost all of them, we failed. Over and over and over again.
The experience — detailed here — shattered our confidence in the program, to say the least. Given the stunning failures of the last six weeks, we simply have no confidence new insurance will be there for us when we need it. The performance to date does nothing to reassure us that we will be taken care of if and when we most need it.
People need to know insurance will be there for them when they need it — whether in the aftermath of a hurricane, a car accident or a cancer diagnosis. They make investments in the future in the hope it will never be needed; but, when it is, it best be there.
Tony Jewell is the founder of Boardwalk Public Relations in Ventnor, New Jersey. He is a former corporate and state and federal government spokesman and blogs regularly at Life in the Affordable Care Act. This post originally appeared in Medium on November 11, 2013.