Sad hospital patient
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A Wisconsin nurse educator describes her situation, facing a debilitating illness as employer-provided health insurance went away.

[Editor’s Note: A centerpiece of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a marketplace of private health insurance plans that are subsidized so that lower-income households can afford healthcare coverage. As part of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan last year, those subsidies were expanded so that more middle class families wouldn’t have to go without coverage when record numbers of jobs were lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic. If those expanded subsidies expire next year as planned, an estimated 13 million Americans would face lower subsidies or lose them altogether—making it likely many will end up uninsured, even if they have health concerns and would face situations like the one described in this article from Lynn Carey.]

As a registered nurse, I spent my career working for various healthcare providers in the metro Milwaukee area. I was working as a nurse educator when I developed a mysterious cough that would not go away. Little did I know that my cough would be a symptom of a life-threatening lung disease requiring oxygen 24/7. After many years of caring for others, I found myself the patient.  

As the disease progressed, I could no longer work. 

Fortunately, I was able to be covered under my husband’s health care plan—until he lost his job. And not having a job meant not having health insurance. This was at a time prior to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the ACA Marketplace that would be created by the new law. The only option, at the time, was to extend our coverage with COBRA which was very expensive and time-limited. Fortunately, my husband did find a new job with health insurance.  

I will never forget the stress and anxiety I had, worrying about how I was going to afford the extremely expensive care I required without health insurance. At a time when I needed to focus on staying as healthy as I could, I was worried about not getting coverage because of significant preexisting conditions—until the ACA was passed. 

Because of the ACA, I could not be discriminated against because of my health conditions, I had access to health insurance options if the need presented, and I could minimize my stress and anxiety and focus on living a full life. I simply can’t imagine what would have happened if this had taken place 5 years earlier, and I had no guarantee of access to health care when I needed it most.

The ACA has helped individuals and families like mine by keeping insurance companies from implementing their most predatory and immoral practices. As historic as the ACA is in assuring that everyone has somewhere to go to get health coverage no matter what their circumstances, it still needs improvement if we are to guarantee quality affordable health care to everyone. Insurance companies have figured out ways to usurp the spirit of the law and go unchecked because Republicans refuse to make even basic adjustments to protect people.

I firmly believe we need to build upon what we started, and I am genuinely worried about all the families and individuals that were recently able to access coverage for care via the increased COVID subsidies. These subsidies provided via the ACA marketplace meant more individuals and families were able to access health care, many for the first time in years. My concern is that these subsidies are set to expire soon and the threat of COVID is not over. I do not want to see people not enroll because of affordability issues, forgo coverage, and then be hit with an unexpected major health condition. 

We know that when people are as healthy as possible, they thrive. Not only is keeping people healthy the right thing to do morally, but it is also good for our country to have a healthy community living their lives to their fullest potential. We need to make sure the ACA COVID subsidies are extended and keep the path clear for people to have a better future.