06/28/2012 02:29 pm ET Updated Jun 29, 2012

Obamacare, PCIP Beneficiaries Who Feared Losing Insurance Cheer Supreme Court Decision

WASHINGTON -- Mary Duffy said she was terrified the Supreme Court would strike down health-care reform.

The 62-year-old small-business owner in Redwood City, Calif., has had insurance since 2010 thanks to the Affordable Care Act's small health plan for people with pre-existing conditions. Duffy, a three-time breast cancer survivor, lost her insurance after she lost her job in 2008. (HuffPost has followed Duffy on her quest for insurance since 2009.)

"I was looking at $1,080 in meds again and having to beg my doctors to see me," Duffy said, describing what would happen if the Supreme Court invalidated the entire law (which is the outcome dissenting justices wanted). "I was absolutely convinced there was no way this court would uphold the law. I personally believe [Chief Justice John] Roberts took a look around and started reading what people thought of the Supreme Court and found a loophole."

Duffy is one of 67,000 people enrolled in the Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan, which offers market-rate health care coverage to people excluded from the individual health insurance market because of health conditions like diabetes or heart disease. The program will be phased out in 2014, when the rest of the health-care law's reforms kick in.

Enrollees had no assurance the PCIP would survive the Supreme Court, and Republicans in Congress vowed to repeal anything the Supreme Court didn't strike down -- including the PCIP, even though the same sort of program was the centerpiece of the GOP's alternative health care bill in 2009.

The program has been a major disappointment: Far fewer people have enrolled than expected, and the cost of their health care has been more than double projections. But news that the Supreme Court upheld the law came as a major relief to several people who signed up for the PCIP after its launch in 2010.

"I was more relieved you could imagine," said Steve Clark, a 63-year-old business administrator at a small IT firm in St. Louis. Clark also lost his insurance during an unemployment spell, and his new job doesn't cover him.

After Clark enrolled in the PCIP in March, he said, he finally saw a dermatologist about a small lesion on his lip. The lesion turned out to be no big deal, but the dermatologist found a melanoma on Clark's back. Now he's undergoing treatment with an oncologist.

"Without getting this health care in place I would not have been able to go to this dermatologist and get this life threatening condition addressed," Clark said.

David Howard, a 60-year-old co-owner of an interior design company in San Francisco, described himself as "extremely relieved" by the Supreme Court's decision. He'd been uninsured for more than a year before enrolling in 2010. Early last year a surprise case of meningococcal meningitis put him in the hospital for a month. If he hadn't been insured, he said, he would have had to file for bankruptcy protection and give up his business.

"I just was worried that if [the law] wasn't declared constitutional that I was going to have a hard time finding coverage," Howard said.

Olivia Pritchard, owner of a small photography business in New Orleans, said she figured the Supreme Court might strike down parts of health care reform, but not all of it. Having signed up for the PCIP in January, she's glad she'll be able to see a doctor instead of going to a free clinic, like she did following a dog bite last year.

"I would have had no other option," Pritchard said. "My other option would have been to pray I don't get any other illness."

Pritchard, 31, said she'd been turned down by insurance companies because she'd been treated for a benign tumor seven years ago. "It’s a huge relief and a load off to know I can pay for health insurance and I can't be turned down for my so-called pre-existing conditions."

Mary Duffy, who runs a food service consulting company, had waited and waited for the PCIP to open in California, the final state to get the program up and running. She won coverage just in time for a needed hysterectomy.

"If I hadn't had insurance under Obamacare, I don’t know what I would have done, because I sure as hell couldn't have afforded surgery," Duffy said. "I feel like sending roses to the president. For John Roberts, I'll settle for taking the pins out of his voodoo doll."



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