For Some Uninsured, Health Bill Benefits Would Kick In Right Away

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

A common complaint about the health insurance reform legislation moving through Congress is that the uninsured won't see any help until 2013.

While it's true that major provisions of the bills don't take effect until 2013, some important reforms would be immediate.

Sandra Ingram, 63, of Iowa, is one of the people eagerly awaiting the legislation's passage.

After a battle with breast cancer, Ingram's doctors declared her cancer-free in January. Then she lost her job and in September, her cancer returned -- this time in her bones and liver.

Ingram still has insurance, because she kept her employer's health benefits through COBRA Continuation Coverage. But that coverage is set to expire in July.

If reform derails in the Senate, Ingram will be out of luck come Independence Day, as her pre-existing condition would make her pretty much uninsurable.

If legislation like what passed the House is signed into law, Ingram will see her COBRA insurance extended until 2013, when an "exchange" is in place where she could choose an affordable insurance policy from a variety of options.

Or she might be eligible for a temporary government-run program for uninsured people with pre-existing conditions -- via an "interim high-risk pool" -- until the exchange is available. The $5 billion high-risk pool would be established on Jan. 1, 2010. The COBRA extension would go in effect as soon as the bill is signed.

So Ingram has been emailing and calling one of her senators, Chuck Grassley (R) -- who cooperated with Democrats at first but changed his position over the summer -- to encourage him to support the bill. And she's been reaching out to local media so people know her story. "I think the way things are with insurance companies -- people need to understand what kind of a grip they have on our throats."

When asked if she took insurance reform personally, she said, "My dear, it could happen to you!"

Another person with a personal stake in reform is Mary Duffy, 60, whose COBRA benefits will expire at the end of next month. Like Ingram, Duffy is a cancer survivor who would benefit from the same two provisions -- either the COBRA extension or the insurance policy for people in a high-risk pool. She's been speaking out, too, talking to reporters and telling her story at town halls.

Duffy, who lives in California, has been trying to get a job since her layoff earlier this year, and she's been trying to get insurance, too. When she calls insurance companies to ask about a policy and tells them she's a three-time breast cancer survivor, "you can almost hear the laughter," she said. She said the best offer she's gotten has been for an $898-a-month policy from Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

As much as a health bill would help her, Duffy opposes it in the form it passed the House, because of its restrictive abortion provision, which she hopes won't survive in the Senate. "I don't understand why the price of insurance is to set women's rights back 50 years," she said.

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