Word is out now that Chief Justice John Roberts switched his vote before Thursday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act.
And for that, I say thank you, Mr. Chief Justice. I could, perhaps, owe him my life.
I have been counting the months until 2014, when I should be able to purchase decent insurance through one of the newly-established exchanges among states. The new law requires that they take me despite my preexisting condition -- chronic lymphocytic leukemia -- and that premiums be capped to that I can actually afford, like most middle-income people, to pay. If coverage is anything like it is in the current and temporary PCP -- the Pre-existing Condition Program that the ACA set up for adults who have been without insurance for six months -- it should allow me a much wider network, including out-of-state expert centers. And, unlike my existing insurance, it would probably provide for a stem cell transplant, should that day ever come.
This will allow me to get away from Merciless Healthcare Group, which was set up in Arizona as a state-backed plan for small businesses. Over the years what was once a limited HMO that took care of its members has become a penny-pinching HMO with ever-higher deductibles and co-insurance and an ever-shrinking network.
For example, the emergency room where I was diagnosed with CLL in 2003 is about a half-mile from my home. It is no longer contracted with my insurer, which no longer has a relationship with Northern Arizona Healthcare, the largest provider in the region. Today, to go to a contracted hospital I have to drive an hour and a half to Prescott, and that goes for getting CT scans or outpatient infusions as well. If you live in my county, you can't even buy into my insurance any more. I am what they called "grandfathered" in. (And, of course, no other insurer will touch me because of my CLL, at least until the ACA takes full effect in 2014.)
I suppose I should consider myself lucky to have insurance at all. Reading online forums, I have seen more than one CLLer describe attempts to deal with the disease without insurance. Chlorambucil may be affordable but it is hardly the standard of care these days. Neither is drinking a lot of green tea.
The whole question of the Affordable Care Act can be an emotional one for both sides. I plead guilty here. For me it may make a huge difference in quality of care, which could mean life and death. On principle, I also think a country that constantly touts itself as the greatest in the world should be able to provide real access to health care for everyone. American "exceptionalism" should not include an exceptional inability to create a workable medical system.
There was an anti-ACA sign held by one of the protesters outside the Supreme Court building while everyone waited for Thursday's decision. It read something to the effect of: "Obamacare: Thank you for paying for my poor life decisions."
CLL is not a product of poor life decisions, and neither are most cancers and chronic diseases. Sometimes shit happens. Let these people walk a mile in the shoes of the uninsured, or underinsured. Let them learn what financial and emotional strain truly are. Now that the election approaches, some Republicans talk of "repeal and replace," but in all the years they held power, at least post-Nixon, they never made an effort to address such matters as preexisting conditions. Given their continued lurch toward the hardline right, one expects they never will.