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There for Amy: How Health Care Reform Helped One Iowa Couple

Posted: 06/15/2012 5:00 pm

There are, perhaps, more than 100 million reasons to be thankful for the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I want to mention just two of them.

Recently, thanks to USAction affiliate Iowa Citizen Action Network, we were introduced to Ross Daniels and Amy Ward. Their life -- as difficult as it remains -- would be in shambles today were it not for the ACA.

One year ago Amy and Ross left their home in West Des Moines to spend a week in Minnesota's Boundary Waters. One day, exiting her kayak near their cabin, Amy slipped on a slick rock, resulting in an unexpected mouthful of lake water. They thought nothing of it until two months later when Amy developed a rare fungal pneumonia called blastomycosis. This fungus, found in the waters and wilds of Minnesota and other northern states, infects approximately one of every 100,000 people who come into contact with it. Amy had won the "un-lottery."

This rare disease affected Amy more than most. Within two days of being admitted to the hospital, she was placed on a ventilator as her lungs broke down. Her kidneys failed and she received dialysis. The fungus had spread throughout her entire body. She was given approximately one in three chance of survival, optimistic by many estimates.

Amy did survive, with the help of an astonishing array of the most advanced technology, medications, excellent doctors and amazing nurses. Ross watched Amy learn to walk again, and re-learn how to do the most basic activities of a normal life. Throughout this ordeal, there was one thing Ross didn't have to worry about: their health insurance coverage running out. Because of the ACA -- and yes, I will proudly call it Obamacare -- Amy's health insurance company had removed limits on coverage the year before.

After two months in intensive care, a month of rehabilitation and several additional surgeries, including one to allow Amy to speak again, Amy's care has cost between $1.4 million and $2 million to date, with additional surgery (surgeries) on the horizon. Prior to passage of the ACA, her health insurance plan, like that of an estimated 105 million Americans, had a cap on lifetime benefits -- in Amy's case, the cap was $1 million. This was typical of employer sponsored health insurance plans, despite Amy's excellent coverage. Under the new law, these lifetime caps were outlawed. As long as businesses and individuals keep paying their premiums, health insurance companies must keep paying for care.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, while Amy was fighting for her life, Ross was able to cast aside worries of the potentially devastating impact this might have had on his family's financial future:

I cannot imagine the stress, grief and guilt Amy would have endured if, as she awoke after nearly 6 weeks in a coma, I had to tell her that everything we had worked for to this point in our lives would be gone -- our house, our retirement savings, and that we would likely need to declare bankruptcy. I cannot imagine what life would have been like if the Affordable Care Act were not the law of our land when we took that amazing vacation, a vacation that almost cost Amy her life.

Today Amy and Ross wait, with the rest of us, for the Supreme Court's decision on the constitutionality of the ACA. But Ross isn't as fixated on the legal arguments involved as he is on what he calls the "human element" of the health care debate.

For just one moment, imagine the stress of sitting in intensive care for two months, worrying about how you will pay an immense hospital bill while at the same time praying with your entire being for your partner or child to live against the odds. Please take one short moment to imagine telling your partner, or your child, as they awaken from a coma that through no fault of their own, everything will be gone -- no more retirement security, no more college savings for your child, no chance of owning a home again.

Before people reject the idea behind health care reform, Ross hopes they will take a brief moment to imagine these things happening to them. If they do, regardless of party affiliation, regardless of whether they are liberal or conservative or go by some other label, Ross is sure of one thing.

They would be there for Amy.

Blum is the executive director of USAction, a federation of 21 state groups that organize for progressive change. USAction co-founded and Blum co-chairs Health Care for America Now.

 

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