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The court saved my lifeline

Posted: July 1, 2012 - 12:08am

Not to be overly dramatic, but for me the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act was a matter of life and death. Because the law was largely upheld, I will be able to continue receiving treatment for breast cancer.

I was one of the early beneficiaries of the law. When I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer late last year, I had no health insurance, which meant my options were extremely limited. No insurer would pick up someone in my circumstances. But luckily, the Pre-existing Condition Insurance Plan had already kicked in, and it made it possible for me to purchase insurance under a government program.

I was uninsured not because I’m a lazy, freeloading deadbeat but because my husband and I are self-employed. We had been purchasing health insurance on the individual market along with 6 percent of the rest of the population. But after exhausting all of our resources trying to keep up with premiums of $1,500 a month, we had no choice but to cancel it.

I can tell you that “Obamacare” — at least the part I’ve participated in — works. A week ago, I had a double mastectomy after five months of chemotherapy. I have been receiving outstanding care in West Hills — no death panels, no rationing, no waiting, no government officials telling my doctors what to do, no denials of tests or treatments, none of the stuff that the plan’s critics said would happen.

Six months ago, when I first wrote about my situation in this newspaper, I got hate mail from people who said I deserved to die. But there was also a lot of curiosity and a lot of encouragement and support. Much of the curiosity was from abroad. Canadians, French, Italian, British and Swiss cannot understand why healthcare reform is so politicized here; why most people don’t know anything about the Affordable Care Act; how we can be so cruel to one another; and why we criticize their healthcare systems.

As a result of that Op-Ed, I have been asked to share my story a lot. I have obliged because I feel it is my civic duty to pay it forward.

I never thought I’d get cancer. Nobody does. Once you get it, your life is turned upside down. For five months I underwent four hours of chemotherapy treatments once a week. The side effects were brutal. Then, just a week ago, I had surgery, which entailed a three-day hospital stay. I’m writing about this not because I want pity but to make the point that undergoing chemotherapy and major surgery for cancer is stressful enough without having to worry about being able to pay for it.

Most people do not have any idea what is in the Affordable Care Act, yet public opinion polls find that the majority of Americans are against it. The free press hasn’t done its job in reporting the facts. And the Republicans have done a far better job of spreading lies and scaring people than the Democrats have done educating people. It stuns me how many Americans believe erroneously that they will be kicked off their existing private healthcare plans if the law survives.

I’m immensely relieved that the Affordable Care Act survived the Supreme Court. But that doesn’t mean it’s safe. John Boehner and Mitt Romney are still determined to repeal the law, and they could succeed if Americans don’t educate themselves, and that doesn’t mean simply listening to the talking heads on Fox News. The Affordable Care Act is quite likely to affect your life at some point. And it may already have if, like me, you found yourself uninsured and facing a crisis, or if your post-college children couldn’t find jobs that provided them with health insurance.

Now is an excellent time to learn about the law. You might want to start at http://www.heathcare.gov, which has excellent information about what the Affordable Care Act does and doesn’t do. But wherever you go for information, take some time to understand this historical legislation before you comment.

• Ward heads a nonprofit arts education organization in Los Angeles. Her blog Health Hazards is at highdeductibles.blogspot.com.

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