Sunday, January 15, 2017
A few years ago when the Affordable Care Act was passed, I wrote a blog post wondering how it would affect me. After all, I was the target audience. I was "uninsurable". I was middle class. I had gone without health insurance since I was 18. When I looked into joining the high risk pool, it was $1000 to insure just me. I was worried I was going to be asked to pay for insurance at that price, and wondered if I would be one that chose to just take the penalty fines.
That's not what happened. I was able to buy insurance. I qualified for small subsidies. With pre-existing conditions no longer barring me from insurance, I was able to buy it at an affordable price. (Without subsidies, I payed $150/month the first year. $220/month the second year, and $230/month this year. I qualify for a $50/month subsidy.)
I had no idea how nice it was to have insurance. With preventive care being covered 100%, I went to the doctor for well checks. I chose a primary care physician, who I saw regularly enough that she knows me. She calls me by name and knows my health history for the past three years, and has been great to have on my team. People with primary care physicians who know them well get different treatment and options than those who do not. When you only see the doctor at the clinics when you are really sick, and you don't see the same doctor every time, they are rushed. They don't order tests or treatments as quickly or as often as they do when they know you.
In 2015, I saw a therapist on a weekly basis starting in July or August. I went to the doctor four or five times trying to figure out what was going on with my chronic pain. I tried various medications, and they did a few different ultrasounds trying to figure out what was wrong. Eventually, I had surgery that included two nights at the hospital in December. Just the hospital stay (not including the surgeon's fee or the anesthesiologist) was $40,000, and that was taken care of 100% by insurance. I wouldn't have gotten the surgery without insurance. I would have continued in pain so intense I would spend 7-8 days/month vomiting, sweating, and crying. My pain wouldn't have killed me, but I don't think I could have lived like that for very long, and it was getting worse at the time I had the surgery.
Surgery helped a lot, but it didn't take care of all of my issues. I had to go back to the doctor for more treatment and more care. I went to physical therapy twice a week for six months. My copay for PT was $60/session, which was expensive, but not nearly as expensive as if I had to pay for it all. (Self-pay was $100/session.)
Then I developed kidney stones. I went to my doctor who immediately ordered a CT scan ($1100!). Also, because she knew me, she gave me a shot of dilaudid and prescribed some percocet that helped while I waited for the stones to pass. Ten days later, I was still in a lot of pain, had developed a kidney infection, and decided to have the stones removed surgically. With that surgery, I hit my maximum out of pocket with the insurance.
My chronic pelvic pain still wasn't getting better, so more doctor visits, more tests, and finally a second surgery: all covered 100% by my insurance. (As well as still seeing a therapist twice a month, all prescriptions, everything all taken care of by insurance.)
Now it's January, and I have recently been referred to another specialist. I will hit my deductible by the end of this month. I hope I still have insurance in a few months, because I really like having it. If I had never known what other people feel: the freedom to go to the doctor when you are sick. The reassurance of knowing that if I need medical care, I won't have to file bankruptcy or struggle to pay tens of thousands of dollars when I don't make that much.
I am very grateful for the ACA. I benefitted a lot. I really don't know what I would have done without it. I definitely could not have afforded the specialists or the surgeries I had this past year. I imagine I would have gone to a doctor when I had kidney stones, but I don't think I would have gone through with surgery. I definitely wouldn't have done the surgery for the endometriosis, because that wouldn't have been an option!
I feel sad and afraid as I think about the future. What will happen to me and to people like me? I didn't have anything life threatening, but what if I had? What if I do in the future? What if Todd does? What happens to the people who are "uninsurable" now? The ACA also protected women from being charged more than men. It protected the elderly from having to pay premiums more than 3x what the young have to pay. It got rid of lifetime caps. That's a lot of protections that would just vanish, and I don't think the insurance companies will keep them in place if they aren't forced to. The big reasons for rising premiums now are the insurance companies trying to make more profits, and I don't see that going away any time soon...
The ACA isn't perfect. It has a lot of flaws, and a lot of things that need fixing. It relies on private insurance companies' participation, and I hate that most of those companies are huge corporations who have always made money by NOT paying for treatment of the sick. But it was a baby step in the right direction. It saved lives. What will happen if it is repealed with no replacement?