In fall of 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare cancer of the bladder. At that time my partner worked full time as a teacher in public schools. I was under-employed (an adjunct instructor) at two institutions and had a third job when I was diagnosed with cancer. I had no access to employer-provided insurance at that time because of my part-time designation at each place.
My partner’s insurance didn’t offer insurance to same-sex partners and we were not yet allowed to be married by state and federal law. When my partner’s self-funded health insurance plan finally allowed partner benefits, I was denied for a pre-existing condition because I had taken a urinalysis earlier in the year when I thought I my symptoms were related to a bladder infection.
I worked on insurance appeals while I underwent a grueling four months of chemotherapy and a life-saving, 8-hour surgery that altered my life forever, but which ultimately saved my life. Two hospitals – St. Peter’s in my hometown of Helena and the Mayo Clinic – ended up picking up my charges, an amount nearing half a million dollars. But, none of my cancer treatment was ever covered.
I started working again just three months after my big surgery. It was hard, but we needed the income. When the Affordable Care Act was enacted, we purchased a premium plan in the health insurance marketplace as soon as we could. For the first time, I could not be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition, and my cancer treatment was covered. I did not have to worry about arbitrary lifetime limits or annual caps on my coverage.
Finally, in the fall of 2015, I became employed full-time again, this time working to help fellow cancer patients, survivors and their families with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. I am now in a position to fight on behalf of other families faced with cancer who must navigate the health care system and look for meaningful coverage for their cancer prevention and treatment needs.
Without the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I would not have had access to the life-saving medical devices that I need as a result of my treatment and the regular check-ups to see if the cancer returned. Without the lifeline of the ACA, I would have delayed those cancer check-ups – a potentially deadly act.
Senator Daines and Senator Tester, as you and the rest of Congress discuss repeal and replace options for the current health care law, I urge you to think about cancer patients, survivors and those at risk for the disease, all of whom are counting on you for access to affordable, meaningful health coverage to survive. Repealing the ACA with no adequate, immediate replacement could destabilize the health care market and create gaps in care for millions of cancer patients and survivors like myself. We can’t go back to the health care system we had before the law.
We have fought for our lives and our family’s financial welfare. Now we’re asking you – our lawmakers – to do the same. Senator Daines and Senator Tester, please don’t take away our lifeline.
Chelsia Rice is a bladder cancer survivor who lives in Helena. She’s the Montana Grassroots Manager for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.