Healthcare and Tuesday’s Election

Massachusetts will have a special election on Tuesday in order to fill the remaining term of Senator Kennedy.  The two contenders, Martha Coakley and Scott Brown are attracting state-wide attention and even the national media has an eye on this thing. An election on a January Tuesday in the middle of — and I write this as a storm is dumping up to 6 inches of heavy wetness on us — Snow Season seems ill-advised, doesn’t it? Timing is everything.

The successful Senate candidate will, of course, be able to vote on the Health Care bill before Congress. I’m certain it won’t surprise anyone who knows me that being somewhat left of center; I don’t consider this current bill enough of a reform of the debacle that is the US healthcare system. But it is something.

In my opinion, one of the most desperately needed provision of the bill being considered is the part that will not allow insurance coverage to be denied based on prior conditions or catastrophic illness. Most people in Massachusetts will not remember the time when our Commonwealth did not protect people from having their insurance denied or from pre-existing condition clauses. I do.

Nearly twenty years ago, I underwent surgery and chemotherapy for breast cancer. Thanks to my spouse’s excellent health insurance — an HMO by the way– there was not one problem for me as far as insurance coverage. A treatment plan was recommended and I received it. At the time, I did not have my own insurance coverage because I worked for a parochial school. Needless to say, benefits in a parochial school are not on a par with those offered to corporate employees.

Some years later, my husband wanted to change employers. The new employer offered a different, more traditional insurance only — and I would be denied coverage due to my pre-existing condition.  Luckily even in the 90s there had been some healthcare reform, and I was able to continue my original coverage through COBRA.  But, what was once free and included in our family premium, would now need to be paid for separately for 12 months until I could prove myself “worthy” of coverage.  I would still need to be part of the new employer’s healthcare plan (in case something new and unrelated to the cancer came up), but I could not receive coverage for any treatments that could be connected to my prior diagnosis of cancer.  I can still remember the cost per month of the continued COBRA insurance: $237.  Not a non-trival expense for a family.

The fear of losing healthcare coverage was one of the biggest stress outcomes of my illness. I did not worry about the actual treatment or the possibility of recurrence so much as bankrupting my family and all that we had worked toward should my treatment cause the insurance to lapse and coverage to be denied.  No one should have to endure this worry on top of fighting through a major illness, but outside of Massachusetts, many people do.

I am lucky enough to live in a state where I have protection from insurance coverage roulette.  Most states do not have laws on their books that prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions. The US Healthcare Reform legislation will not greatly impact me at all, but it will improve things for people who live in other states where such protections are nonexistent.

And our two candidates for Senate? Martha Coakley has clearly supported the US bill and the other, Scott Brown,  is hoping to become the person to prevent its passage.

The importance of this vote is that the successful candidate will have an impact on quality of life for many, many people. Tuesday’s Special Election vote will make a difference. Vote!

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