POLITICS

Courting Disaster: Going Without Health Insurance Could 'Bankrupt Me,' Chicago Man With Skin Cancer Says

03/03/2015 06:00 am ET
Chandler West / The Huffington Post


Press play to hear Dave Price tell his story.

Over the last eight years, Dave Price has beaten skin cancer, struggled with the transition into a new career in his 50s and eaten away at the savings he worked decades to build. What happens next is in the hands of the nine justices on the Supreme Court.

Price, 59, is covered by a health insurance plan he bought from an Obamacare exchange. Under the Affordable Care Act, he couldn’t be turned down because of his pre-existing condition. His family income of less than $30,000 a year means he and his wife, who live in Chicago, qualify for tax credits that make the coverage affordable. If the Supreme Court invalidates those subsidies in Illinois and more than 30 other states, Price faces a decision: tap even deeper into his retirement fund to pay for health insurance, or leave the cancer unchecked. It’s not much of a choice, he said.

“If they pull the subsidy, we’re going to have to stay in ACA and pay the full cost,” Price said. That would mean more than $13,000 a year in health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket costs. Price said his twice-yearly cancer checkups cost $2,000 each, and having new melanomas removed costs up to $5,000. “I joke around with my kids that with the cancer, they’re burying me a piece at a time,” he said.

Price was diagnosed with melanoma in 2007. At the time, he had health insurance from his job, where he worked as an operations director for a manufacturing company. That coverage paid for $85,000 worth of cancer treatments. Price left his job in 2010 to go to graduate school to become an adult educator. He currently works part-time as a job trainer at a community college.

Before Obamacare, health insurance and out-of-pocket costs came to about $10,000 a year, and Price spent down his savings and tapped his retirement fund to get by. When he signed up for insurance on the exchange, his costs went way down.

“The difference was, my premiums went from $5,600 a year to $1,800 -- basically saving $3,800 a year,” Price said. “Most of that savings is from the ACA subsidy.” Price and his wife receive a tax credit worth a little under $300 a month. Their insurance plan is comparable, and in some ways better, than what he had prior to Obamacare, he said.

“I have to keep insurance,” Price said. “The melanomas, if I catch them early, are three to five grand apiece. If I were to have anything like the one I had before, it would bankrupt me.”

For more personal stories about the real-life effects of the Supreme Court case, go to Courting Disaster: Obamacare Is Back At The Supreme Court, And These Six Lives Hang In The Balance.

The audio interviews in this feature were produced and edited by Ibrahim Balkhy and Brad Shannon.

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