My Turn: Every Alaskan deserves affordable health care

If members of Congress had to secure health insurance in the open marketplace, I wonder whether America would have a better system. It is one thing to care about an abstract issue like health care in America and another when you look at your children and wonder how you’ll deal with a medical emergency and aftermath of hospital and doctor bills.

In the ‘90s we confronted that reality as a commercial fishing family with three young children with minor, and sometimes major medical expenses. Health insurance was necessary yet only a catastrophic plan with high deductible, affordable. In 2009, we were delighted to see passage of the Affordable Care Act and the promise of accessible health insurance for families like us with expensive pre-existing conditions and variable income.

Unfortunately, the promise of vastly improved health care was never realized. We struggled when our daughter fell into the gap created before Medicaid expansion. And while a decade of working for the state has taken care of my husband and me, most self-employed families struggle with suffocating premiums and steep deductibles. However, before we completely throw out the ACA, let’s remember what life was like previously.

Do you recall the fine print itemizing everything that was ever seriously wrong medically with you or your children — the infamous pre-existing condition clause that confronted anyone required to switch insurance? For our family, a child who required middle ear surgery elicited an insurance carrier’s edict for future medical care even remotely related to either ear as “not covered.” Fortunately ACA changed that.

Do you remember, too, when students were cast out of the insurance nest long before they were financially solvent? The ACA provision extending insurance coverage under a parent’s policy until age 26 has been a huge positive. One may also recall that prior to ACA, insurance premiums could be increased arbitrarily, policies cancelled with little notice — both practices reigned in under ACA.

On a personal level, as our children left college and entered the workforce, the Affordable Care Act simply made health insurance affordable. Without the sliding subsidy, they, like many of their friends would have simply gone without, gambling nothing would go wrong. Fortunately, under the ACA, they are covered. And mom and dad can sleep better.

For all its flaws, the ACA has made key improvements to health care in our country. While Alaska’s Congressional delegation — Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Rep. Don Young — haggle over the future of our health, insulated by some of the best insurance money can buy, let us remind them of these improvements.

Let us remind them that each and every Alaskan deserves access to affordable health care, whether a commercial fisherman, young person getting started, small business owner or newborn infant, disabled or robustly healthy. And let us ask that our legislators create a viable alternative to the ACA, one that they would choose to use themselves before they discard what we have.

• Mary Hakala is co-owner of the FV Williwaw and family commercial fishing business, a semi-retired education advocate and a Juneau resident since 1962.

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