If the American Health Care Act (AHCA) becomes law, it is my death sentence.
There are probably supporters of the law out there who think that this statement lacks nuance, but it’s true. As a woman with multiple serious pre-existing conditions, I see only three grim options if this law is passed: I keep my healthcare but meet a lifetime cap on medical expenses; I’m thrown into a high-risk pool; or I’m priced out of the healthcare market altogether. All three options eventually lead to financial ruin, eventually followed by an inability to access care. Without healthcare, I go out of remission. If I go out of remission, I could face severe suffering and even death.
I have never been healthy, but it hasn’t been because of my lifestyle, as some legislators would like to believe.
I had severe allergies as a child, asthma diagnosed in middle school, and then I developed Crohn’s Disease in high school. Crohn’s is a serious, incurable, and painful autoimmune disease that affects the digestive system. Its cause is unknown, but doctors and scientists believe that it is a genetic condition that has environmental triggers. The treatments for Crohn’s are not only expensive new medications, but dangerous immunosuppressants that can have side effects as serious as Crohn’s itself. In fact, I had chronic infections for five years, followed by a bone infection, due to immunosuppression from a medicine that kept me in remission. I spent eight days in the hospital and two months receiving intravenous antibiotics for the infection, which nearly killed me and gave me another pre-existing condition: chronic infections.
Crohn’s doesn’t just affect the digestive system, but many other parts of the body as well. Crohn’s patients often suffer from depression and anxiety, and I have been treated for both. Last month, I was diagnosed with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)-induced arthritis, another pre-existing condition.
For those of you keeping score, that’s seven pre-existing conditions that put me in danger of losing my healthcare under the AHCA.
As I mentioned, my first option would be, by some miracle, that I am able to stay on the coverage I have now at the same price. Even then, I still wouldn’t be safe. Under the AHCA, insurance companies will be allowed to reinstate lifetime caps on coverage. My pre-existing conditions are costly. Crohn’s Disease is treated by medications that have cost me up to $25,000 per treatment, and my current treatment costs $15,000 per injection every four weeks. And unfortunately, I can’t “just switch to a cheaper drug.” I’ve tried and failed nearly all the drugs on the market, so I have to go with what works for me at this moment in time. On top of that, I have had bills for hospitalizations that have been $300,000 per stay, I have medical appointments almost weekly, and routine procedures and monitoring all the time. I’m 24 years old. If I have a lifetime cap of a million dollars on my medical plan, how long will it take for me to reach that limit? Not very long.
My second option would be a high-risk pool, something that has been proven to be ineffective in the past. By throwing people with pre-existing conditions into high-risk pools, you aren’t spreading their medical costs out with those who have lower medical costs, and everybody in the pool will be sending significant medical bills to their insurance companies. It has been estimated that even with the GOP’s $8 billion increase in funding for high-risk pools, they are still $192 billion short of the money they would need to cover those pools. This would mean that those of us in high-risk pools would have extremely high premiums for subpar medical coverage.
And finally, the option that keeps me up at night, and the most likely option under the current version of AHCA: being priced out of the healthcare market. It is estimated that someone with asthma would receive a $4,000 increase in premiums under the AHCA, and that’s the least serious of my conditions. Crohn’s is much more complex. There is no estimate on how much all of my pre-existing conditions combined would cost me under the AHCA, but it is fairly certain that I would be unable to afford my healthcare. This dooms me to an inability to receive the treatments that keep me alive and out of pain.
It’s blunt, but it’s true: if the AHCA passes, I will suffer and die so that somebody else, or an insurance company, can see a small cost savings. Congress is telling me that my life is less important than a little tax break or a cut in premiums for somebody who is healthy. If I don’t have healthcare, I don’t get my medicine and I don’t see my doctors, and I go out of remission. If I go out of remission and don’t treat it, at some point I will need to go to the hospital, which I will no longer be able to afford. If I’m cut off from my treatment options, a condition that is considered treatable in Western countries will likely become terminal for me, and I will die from Crohn’s or one of the many complications for which I am unable to seek proper medical care.
I am a pre-existing condition, and the AHCA is my death sentence. If you believe that people don’t deserve to suffer and die from lack of access to medical treatment, if you are a decent human being, you will oppose this law with all your might.
Sarah Blahovec is an activist for disability voting rights and a disabled blogger. Find her on Twitter @sblahov.