11/20/2014 12:56 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Daughter's Plea to the Supreme Court: Let My Parents Keep Their Health Insurance

Arlene Brens

As a deeply concerned daughter, I write this plea about the upcoming Supreme Court decision in King v. Burwell, which will determine whether my parents are able to keep their badly-needed health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare. This case will decide whether tax credit subsidies will remain available on federal health insurance exchanges or if these subsidies will only be available on state-run exchanges. This means that if you live in one of the 34 states that did not set up its own state exchange and you signed up through a federal exchange, you may lose the federal subsidy you received to afford your health care.

Health care has turned into a political issue. Big government vs. small government. Democrat vs. Republican. Conservative vs. Liberal. To my parents, who can't afford health care and live on a disability check, the issue is not political, it is literally a question of life or death.

Obamacare opponents are always focused on what evils Obamacare has done to people and how it has destroyed our health care system. Has politics become so polarizing that we can't even admit when a law we don't agree with helps many families? I can't speak for everyone, but I can say that for my family, Obamacare has saved my parents' lives.

You see, in June 2013, my family's world was turned upside down. My dad's health severely deteriorated to the point where he became confined to a wheelchair, lost 40 pounds, and required blood transfusions. Because he could no longer work as a hospital maintenance worker, he was laid off. With that, he lost his health insurance, as did my mother, who was covered as a dependent. Because my dad was the only breadwinner, my parents had no income, no health insurance, and no safety net. Using the generous donations we received from family and friends and all of my parents' savings, we scraped together the money to pay $1200 per month in COBRA payments until the Obamacare plans went into effect.

Then, in January 2014, we received terrifying news -- doctors finally identified the cause of my dad's severe health decline. Doctors diagnosed him with Stage 3 multiple myeloma, the most advanced stage of this cancer. His cancer treatment required several grueling months of combination drug therapies, countless appointments with multiple specialists, radiation therapy, and high dose chemotherapy followed by a bone marrow transplant this summer. Obamacare made this all possible for my dad.


Now Obamacare opponents are challenging the federal subsidies given to families who obtained their health care through a federal exchange. The subsidies are a key part of the law because it is what makes health care affordable to low-income families like my parents. My parents live in Florida, which has no state-run exchange, so they signed up for Obamacare through a federal exchange. Under Obamacare, my parents pay only $205 per month for their health insurance because of the $1,257 they receive in federal subsidies. Without the federal subsidies, this plan would cost my parents roughly $1,462 per month, making it unaffordable for them. Currently, my parents' only source of income is my Dad's Social Security disability check of $1,350 per month. That would not be enough to cover insurance premiums -- it barely covers the cost of food, utilities, insurance co-payments, prescription costs, car insurance, and gas money. Without these vital subsidies, my parents would not be able to afford both health insurance coverage and their everyday expenses.

While my dad was undergoing cancer treatment, doctors also delivered the terrible news that my mother's oral cancer had returned and that she would require surgery in August 2014. Thanks to her Obamacare coverage, my Mom was able to have the tumor removed by a specialist at the top-ranked Moffitt Cancer Center --all covered by her insurance. What could be so awful about a law that made all this happen for my parents?

Some may say that my parents should apply for Medicaid due to their low income. However, under Florida's Medicaid program, my parents' monthly income of $1350 is too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Florida's recently re-elected governor has refused to expand Medicaid to cover more people under the program. My parents are also not old enough to qualify for Medicare.

I know that Obamacare is far from perfect. It was a nightmarish process to sign up for Obamacare. It took my parents several attempts to register on the website, and many phone calls to the 1-800 number, in addition to multiple website crashes. For people who aren't eligible for subsidies under the law due to income, the high-deductible plans are the most affordable, but provide minimal coverage.

But instead of gutting a law that helps American families, why don't we make the law work better for all Americans? My biggest criticism of Obamacare is that it doesn't cover more people. When Medicare doesn't work perfectly for every person, is our solution to repeal the entire law? No, we try to improve it and streamline it. Let's work together to fix Obamacare and keep it intact for those who are benefitting from it. I know such a proposal is bold in this toxic political climate, but I am hoping the Supreme Court will do the right thing and keep politics out of their decision.

When people call for the repeal of Obamacare, these statements hit too close to home. For my family, Obamacare is not simply a political game. My parents need access to affordable health care so they can beat cancer. They are only motivated by the will to survive and the desire to be healthy. If Obamacare is gutted, the Supreme Court Justices responsible will continue to enjoy their taxpayer-sponsored excellent health coverage while my family -- and countless other American families -- will lose their health insurance coverage. This is not just a political setback for us -- our lives would be on the line.