The Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) has divided America. Town halls, state houses, and news rooms are consumed with the debate over whether it is what we need, and whether it is what we want. None of this matters to me, though, because as strange and unbelievable as it sounds, the Affordable Care Act saved my life.
In 2006, I was diagnosed with an ear infection. It made me deaf in my right ear, but it seemed to resolve itself, so I put it on the back burner. At the time, I was a starving student. In 2007, I became a starving graduate. In 2008, President Obama was elected. Soon thereafter, the Affordable Care Act was signed into law. In early 2011, I got a letter in the mail from Blue Cross-Blue Shield. The ACA required my insurance carrier to cover children with pre-existing conditions, but at the urging of Sec. Sebelius they opted to cover all pre-existing conditions on insured persons. This seemed innocuous, but would not stay that way for long.
In December 2011 I discovered that 5 years prior, the doctor called it wrong. What he called an ear infection was actually a large brain tumor, and if I didn’t have surgery immediately I would soon be dead. I was rushed through a battery of tests, and only days later I was operated on by two of the finest surgeons I think one could have. One was the chief of neurosurgery, the other the chief of otolaryngology (“Ear, Nose and Throat” surgery), and their joint operation lasted nearly 16 hours. I lived, but it was a near thing. A less steady hand, a less precise method, and I would be dead right now. After I left the ICU, I saw the bill: more than $1,000,000 before insurance, and about $5000 after.
Without the Affordable Care Act, my insurance wouldn’t have covered the tumor, because it predated my insurance coverage by several years – a pre-existing condition. Without insurance, the hospital would have had no reason to not shuffle me down the street to the state-run charity hospital. Without the the best doctors, the tumor that nearly killed me might have finished the job. For all its flaws, the Affordable Care Act saved my life. When there is talk in Washington of repealing and replacing it, I always ask myself: if that had been done instead, would I be dead right now?
I wrote the above at the request of a friend, as a short opinion piece for a small publication. I realize that there are points within it worthy of a spirited debate, and there are more sides than I present. Five hundred words is not long enough to tell the whole story, but that’s all I had. Was I at fault for not acting sooner (I was without hearing in my right ear for 5 years, after all)? Would it really have been classed as a pre-existing condition, given that it was misdiagnosed? Does the fact that this happened to me counter-balance the other ethical issues, like job losses and disruptions to families, that perhaps happened elsewhere? Is the good that it did for me weight enough to make it good policy, if at the same time it encourages society to move in the wrong direction, if indeed it does that? These are all good questions, and I’m not here to answer them for anyone but myself.
What I know, however, is that even though I think parts of the ACA are less than ideal, even though I think it doesn’t go far enough, I cannot malign the Act itself on that basis. It saved my life. It is costing some people some money, and if that makes their lives difficult or impossible then that’s a bad thing. I sympathize. I’m living paycheck-to-paycheck, too, and it’s tough. On the other hand, I’m living, and that means I’m better off than I might be otherwise.