After losing her job and being diagnosed with advanced breast cancer, this woman could not have paid for treatment if it wasn’t for Obamacare.
Laurie Merges never expected to be relying on Medicaid. As a highly educated woman with a successful career in corporate sales, she has worked her entire life and is raising three children, a 10-year-old and six-year-old twins. A self-described “bleeding-heart liberal,” Laurie says she believes in social safety net programs like Medicaid and is happy to have her tax dollars go toward helping others in need. She just never thought she would be the one in need.
But in October 2015, she lost her job to corporate downsizing. She still thought she’d be okay while she looked for another job, and she applied for Medicaid to keep her children insured, especially her 10-year-old son who is on the autism spectrum. She didn’t want his therapy to be interrupted. Not only were her children accepted into the program, she was told she qualified, too, under the Medicaid expansion in Ohio that’s part of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare. So she accepted the coverage, thinking it would only be a stop-gap until she found another job.
Turns out that was a life-saving decision.
Although she’d just had a routine mammogram in June 2015, Laurie was concerned when she felt hardening in one breast. After a number of follow-up tests, Laurie was diagnosed with a type of breast cancer called lobular carcinoma. Her tumor was the size of her entire breast — the size of a softball. The doctors said it had probably been there for two or three years, but this type of breast cancer is often missed on mammograms.
Not only did the doctors tell her she needed immediate treatment. They also told her she should think twice about going back to work before her treatment was over, because it would be grueling. That was excellent advice, Laurie says.
My fatigue is crippling. I’ve never slept so much in my life and I still don’t feel rested. I’ve probably also jeopardized my health since the election, with the stress and anxiety of worrying about whether I might lose health insurance for myself and my kids if the ACA is repealed.
Laurie still has months to go in her treatment, which has included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy — both breasts were removed because this type of cancer often spreads to the other breast — followed by 33 rounds of radiation. She was hospitalized three times due to infections and is now on a six-month course of oral chemotherapy, just in case the cancer has spread to other parts of her body. She hopes to return to work in the summer once her treatment is over, but she’s deeply concerned about the ACA being repealed or dismantled.
I’m terrified. What happens to me if I lose my insurance — or even after I return to work, if I’m denied because I have a pre-existing condition now? What about my 10-year-old son, who also has a pre-existing condition: What am I supposed to do? The possibility of lifetime limits on coverage terrifies me, especially for my son.
Under the ACA, no one can be denied coverage because of a pre-existing condition and insurance companies can’t charge more because of it, either. The law also forbids insurers from placing yearly or lifetime limits on the amount of treatment it will pay for. If the law or even parts of it were repealed, those patient protections would be at risk.
Even if President Trump and Republicans keep the patient protections they claim they will but eliminate other elements of the law — like the mandate that requires everyone to carry insurance or pay a fine, so everyone contributes to their healthcare costs in some way — the insurance market would be hobbled, driving up costs for everyone.
“It’s like a game of Jenga,” Laurie says. “If you don’t have all the healthy people participating, you can’t do the rest of it. As soon as you pull out one block, the whole thing comes down.”
Laurie admits she is not a fan of Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, but she appreciates that he fought for Medicaid expansion and is urging federal Republicans to protect it. She has a message for him — and for Republicans in Washington, D.C.
When lawmakers think about so-called ‘entitlement programs’ like Medicaid, they don’t think about people like me — an educated white woman. They think it’s people who don’t want to work. But I’ve always worked, I’ve paid into the system for years. I am not the face of what people think of programs like Medicaid — and that’s the whole point. That’s what the program is for: to help people like me and millions of others who might hit a snag or be faced with a health crisis.
To yank it out from under people, it’s the most heartless thing we could do as Americans. Aren’t we supposed to look out for each other as a nation? That’s part of what makes us great, that we do come together.
Laurie has always cared about her fellow citizens, so she’s concerned about the fate of millions of Americans who rely on the ACA. But, understandably, she’s most worried about her own family.
I want to be here to watch my children grow up. I didn’t bring my children into this world to leave them. I want to be in their lives, to help them grow up to be respectful, to be people who get out there and earn their living, people who become ‘good American citizens.’
It comes down to one basic thing: I don’t want to die. And I especially don’t want to die because I can’t afford the healthcare that will save my life.
Contact your Representative in the U.S. Congress HERE and your U.S. Senator HERE. Urge them to vote against repealing the ACA unless a replacement plan with the same level of coverage and consumer protections is enacted at the same time.
Meanwhile open enrollment for 2017 coverage continues through January 31. Get covered today at HealthCare.gov.
Has Obamacare helped you or someone in your family? Tell us about it HERE if you’d like to be considered for a future post.
[Image courtesy of Laurie Merges.]