News & Politics

I Have Cancer -- And I'm More Stressed By America's Healthcare System Than My Disease

Beyond GOP hatred of President Obama and healthcare reform is a poignant reality: worrying about healthcare coverage is worse than having cancer.

I was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer 13 years ago. I have never been in remission. What I didn't know then, as I started my adult life, was that I would have a pre-existing condition for the rest of my life. The fact that I had cancer would be a hurdle made manifest in every aspect of my life; where I live, where I can get adequate care, and how to maintain continuous insurance coverage.

Surviving cancer would not just be managing the disease physically, which is hard enough. The American healthcare system in general and my insurance providers in particular have been a greater affliction for me than cancer. Every single financial and life decision I make revolves around maintaining my ability to get health care. All of my life decisions have been mediated through my disease. 

I am being absolutely honest--having to worry about insurance is worse than having cancer. I am better able to deal with my illness and survival than I am when trying to obtain and maintain insurance coverage in the private market. It is more stressful than any of the treatments I have gotten over the last 13 years, or any of the consequences of those treatments. 
 
What cancer hasn't been able to do, our broken healthcare system has done: force me to deal with anxiety on levels I have never known before. 
 
After working so hard on the passage of the Affordable Care Act, I realize we didn't get all that we wanted, but we got a few things that we need. For a society that considers health care a commodity, we are getting closer to being able to celebrate the goal of a healthy society. Ending discrimination based on pre-existing conditions, being able to receive necessary preventative care, and ensuring that women are not charged higher premiums than men are steps toward meeting healthcare reform's goal of a healthier nation.
 
Before the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies could deny coverage, charge higher premiums, or limit benefits based on pre-existing conditions. They defined the terms and sometimes even a healthy applicant could be denied based on a past health problem or evidence of treatment for a particular illness. Someone like me could be completely locked out of receiving necessary care.

The legislation does a few things toward that end. As of 2014, those of us with life-threatening or chronic illnesses, like cancer or diabetes, will not be subject to the fear of being denied coverage or being dropped from our health plans. For the first time, Americans will not be subject to the dehumanizing whims of the free market--this government intervention in the insurance market removes that uncertainty forever. 
 
Also in 2014, anyone who has already suffered the vagaries of the market by losing their coverage and who has a pre-existing condition that makes them unable to buy insurance has help in the form of state-based exchanges. The only qualifications for buying into these exchanges is that you be uninsured for at least six months and that you have a pre-existing condition that makes you uninsurable. 

A few states have already begun the process of setting these up. States with Republican-dominated legislatures have failed to do so.
 
If the Supreme Court rules that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional, there will be no argument against states implementing these exchanges. There is no question that the federal government can make laws which the states must follow; that power is not being questioned. Still, if the Supreme Court strikes down the law in its entirety, this provision will never be implemented and people in between Medicare eligibility and their last private insurance policy who are ill will be nowhere near qualification for affordable coverage.
 
We're nowhere near free health care for every man, woman and child in the United States, but government intervention into the market to prevent annual and lifetime limits on what companies will pay for, and ensuring that insurance companies cannot drop patients at any moment or raise premiums based on gender, are good starts. The fact that having a pre-existing condition could mean that you would never qualify for private insurance again was ludicrous and discriminatory against those with chronic diseases. These things alone will change my life for the better, and might just save it. It also might save the lives of millions of Americans.
 
Democrats deemed my life worthy of saving. Republicans have not and never will. That's the kind of thing I think about every day. It would be nice if the conservative bloc of the Supreme Court remembered that next month, that there are people whose lives can and will and already have been saved. There is a lot at stake if the Affordable Care Act is overturned, and the repercussions are monumental. Many benefits and people's lives are on the line.      
 
It would be nice if the American people would remember that at the polls in November. Re-litigating the healthcare fight has ignited many feelings in me and my fellow activists. We are proud of our work, and we stand by it. We look forward to a healthy society, and we will always, always work towards equity, security and justice for health care, this most basic human right.
 
Kelly Cuvar, originally from John Boehner’s district in Ohio, has been living in New York City for a decade. She is currently working on Matt Alexander’s congressional campaign to unseat Nan Hayworth in upstate New York.
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