Fourth of July Weekend in 2008 did not start out like I planned it to. My Independence Day would usually entail the normal events of celebrating the birth of our nation and my grandmother, who was born on the 5th, by gathering with my family and friends in Johnson County, eating fried chicken, playing bluegrass music, and shooting off the most powerful fireworks the law will allow. But July 4, 2008 did not begin with fireworks, but in an emergency room, with a large piece of steak lodged in my esophagus. A procedure was preformed to remove it and I was able to end the day in a field near my home, lighting up the Eastern Kentucky sky.
A few weeks later my eyes lit up brighter than the fireworks when I saw the bill from the hospital: my insurance carrier had deemed that removing the piece of steak I had choked on was not covered under my policy because of a “pre-existing condition”. This is a term I had grown familiar with over the years: as a 25-year survivor of Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
I had discovered that, despite having been in remission with no relapses since 1985, I am still considered by insurers to be “high risk”. So high risk that somehow choking on a piece of steak must have had something to do with my childhood illness. Luckily, the situation was eventually resolved: once the company was made aware of the procedure they had denied, they rescinded their denial in a hurry.
But the term “pre-existing condition” was an albatross around my neck. It meant I couldn’t afford to start my own business, I couldn’t afford to lose my job - I couldn’t take any risk in life that would result in a gap in my coverage. My options in life and in a career would always be hindered by that God-forsaken term “pre-existing condition”. This was not a burden limited to me: while I only was forced to wade through oceans of red tape, the denial of coverage because of “pre-existing conditions” has cost many Americans their financial security, their health, and their very lives. In comparison to the trials suffered by other folks who were deemed by some executive with their eye on the bottom line as “high risk”, the steak episode seems almost trivial. But there was a whole class out there of us: men, women, and children, all whose health was deemed expendable because we had been sick once in our lives.
But then something changed. We elected a President and a Congress that wanted to do something about this.
Today, Thursday, July 15, many provisions of the Health Care Reform Act will come into effect. For me, is truly life changing.
As of Thursday, the days of insurance companies being able to exclude children from coverage because of pre-existing conditions will be over, and “high risk” people like me will be able to buy into pools to lower our rates, and by 2014, no longer shall the term “pre-existing condition” be part of our speech in America.
As of Thursday, if I were to decide to move back home to Johnson County and start my own business, I could do that. I could buy into pools created by the Health Care Reform Act and be able to afford health insurance at a rate that would be reasonable.
We live in a country that has been blessed more than most: as Jefferson said in our Declaration, our Creator endows us with rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. For too long, too many of my fellow Americans have been denied those rights because we were considered “high risk”.
While these changes begin on Thursday, they will not come into full effect until 2014. We must be ever vigilant to continue to protect our right to life and the pursuit of happiness, which those of us who are “high risk” attained. We must work to elect Democrats all over this country who will fight to protect those of us whom the corporate world, in its pursuit of profits, deemed expendable. Starting with Jack Conway to the US Senate, we need to send strong Democrats to Washington and Frankfort who will fight to keep those who believe a profit is worth more than a person’s life, health or finances away from the levers of power, and so that when 2014 arrives, the word “pre-existing condition” will join the ranks of “slavery” and “segregation” as something we used to have in America: but never will again.
Native of Johnson County, KY
Vice-President of Recruitment and Expansion
Kentucky Young Democrats