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 began not with fireworks, but in an emergency room, with a large piece of steak lodged in my esophagus. A tracheotomy 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 27-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Luckily, the situation was eventually resolved: once the company was made aware of the procedure they had denied, they rescinded their denial in a hurry.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. They passed the Affordable Care Act, which eliminated the restrictions that kept people like myself away from affordable health care.
However, that hung in the balance until today. Until today, my ability to start my own business was on the fence. Until today, I was uncertain whether I could buy into pools created by the Affordable Care Act and be able to afford health insurance at a rate that would be reasonable. Thankfully, the Supreme Court upheld the ACA and protections for people with pre-existing conditions like me.
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”.
Regardless of the court's ruling today, we must work hard to elect Democrats all over this country who will fight to protect those of us who the corporate world, in its pursuit of profits, has deemed expendable. We need to send strong Democrats to Washington who will fight to protect the laws we have passed, and 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.
Chair, Rural Caucus
Young Democrats of America