Public Comment

What My Family Could Lose if the Affordable Care Act Goes Down

Bill Claxon
Friday September 22, 2017 - 11:33:00 AM

In August 2004, we got the phone call every parent dreads. Our 17-year-old daughter had been in a car accident, but, to our relief, was apparently not badly injured. When we saw the accident, though, our fear soared. Her compact car was in the middle of the four-lane highway, its driver’s side crushed.

We jumped out of our car just as the EMS personnel were strapping her onto the stretcher, her neck immobilized in a white brace, a two-inch triangular shard of glass sticking out of her left shoulder. I bent down to say something like, “We’re here. You’re going to be all right.” I touched her shoulder gently. The police officer pulled me aside to get the details of car ownership and other information. My wife got into the ambulance with my daughter. Just as the ambulance was pulling away the clouds burst, and we were hit with a torrential downpour. 

I prayed all 30 miles for my daughter’s safety, my eyes glued to the tail lights of the ambulance, which blinked and blurred in the rain streaming down my windshield. After a long wait at the hospital, we learned that she was, indeed, okay. Even though the seat on the driver’s seat had been reduced to a narrow strip of six inches, and window glass had given my daughter cuts and a permanent scar on her shoulder, she had no serious injuries. We breathed a sigh of relief.  

Our relief that our daughter had been spared ended abruptly when the attending doctor came in the next morning and stunned us by announcing that she had a more lasting trauma: type 1 diabetes. 

We and she began a series of counseling sessions with a specialist and a nutritionist. These sessions focused on the seriousness of the disease and the importance of a careful lifestyle and monitoring of the illness. In all of these sessions, in all of the television ads for products, in all of the brochures handed to us again and again, and in all of our research, we did not hear or read anything about health insurance. Naively, I thought that because her condition was under excellent control and because I knew she would continue to take care of herself, she could get health insurance on her own when the time came. 

When my daughter graduated from college and could no longer be covered under my employee health policy, we learned a terrifying truth: individuals with type 1 diabetes were considered virtually uninsurable for health care and for life insurance. The only coverage they could get was group health insurance through an employer, and if they ever let their health insurance lapse, or experienced a break in their continuous coverage for longer than 60 days, they might have to endure a long waiting period before they could receive benefits even under group health insurance, which would come, of course, with higher premiums. The good thing was that they could not be refused health coverage under a group health plan. If, however, they did not get a job with group benefits, then they would have to live without health insurance.  

Even in good economic times, recent college graduates and especially young people without college educations are prone to live life without a full-time professional job and without health insurance. After all, they are young and healthy, and dealing with an occasional cold does not seem a big deal. But having an illness like diabetes changes everything. My daughter faced this danger in a recession, which was full-blown at the very moments I was dealing with her health insurance. I signed her up for COBRA, to which she was entitled because she had to be dropped from my health plan, and began paying the whopping $400 a month, more than she could pay even with a full-time hourly job. 

When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act in 2010, we were relieved. The act allowed my daughter to be covered under my health insurance while she searched for employment with a benefits package, which she eventually found over a year later. The act also prohibited insurance companies from denying private health insurance to individuals with pre-existing conditions or charging high premiums. I became a believer in the Affordable Care Act. 

Now the Affordable Care Act, pejoratively called Obamacare, is on the brink of destruction by Congress. My daughter could again be uninsurable. That prospect frightens me. I retire next May. The CDC estimates that health care for people with diabetes costs $7,900 a year. My fixed income will limit my ability to help my daughter should she need it. I am dismayed that the leaders of our country have so little concern for the struggles of Americans who are not blessed with good health or wealth. I am more than dismayed. I am angry. Almost a century ago, in a poem, “Once by the Pacific,” Robert Frost seemed to foresee this moment: “It looked as if a night of dark intent / Was coming, and not only a night, an age. / Someone had better be prepared for rage.” 

Bill Claxon is on the English faculty at University of South Carolina Aiken.