With a Breast Cancer History and a Heart Condition, Concerns About Health Insurance Bring Back ‘Dark Cloud of Worry’

February 7, 2017

This post is part of a series looking at how the Affordable Care Act, also called Obamacare, has affected people with breast cancer. We would love to hear about your experience with the ACA/Obamacare – whether it’s good, bad or somewhere in between. Share your stories and your vision for health care with us, here.

Kathi HansenIn 2003, when I was employed and had insurance through my job, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I endured eight rounds of chemotherapy and three surgeries (two lumpectomies and then a bilateral mastectomy). I continue to take hormonal therapy every day to reduce my risk of recurrence. I was able to concentrate on my treatments and recovery because I was not constantly fretting about my financial circumstances.

When my husband retired in 2004, I stopped working and was covered under the insurance he received as a retirement benefit. When he became eligible for Medicare in 2012, I was able to continue the insurance coverage, paying the full premium, until that benefit ran out.

Fortunately, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act had been enacted into law by that time and I was able to shop for individual insurance without fear of being turned down due to my cancer history. Although I did not qualify for any premium assistance, I had my choice of plans that were competitively priced, with no extra charges due to my medical history.

In 2016 I was diagnosed with a series of heart problems, including non-ischemic cardiomyopathy (a progressive disease of the heart muscle), a left bundle branch block (blockage of electrical impulses to the left side of the heart), and heart failure. Unable to pinpoint any other likely cause and knowing from the imaging that the heart damage appeared to have been caused by exposure to a chemical toxin, my cardiologist and oncologist agreed that the likely cause was the chemotherapy I had as part of my breast cancer treatment.

Under the pre-ACA rules, even if I had been able to get individual insurance, insurance coverage for the consultations, tests, medications, cardiac rehabilitation and surgery to implant a pacemaker/defibrillator device could have been denied since they were related to my prior cancer diagnosis and treatment. Those bills are well over $100,000 and counting.

I am now on my third individual insurance plan and my third company, but I am insured! I will not face insurmountable bills if I have a cancer recurrence, continuing heart issues, or some other serious medical condition.

I wrote this when the ACA was enacted:
"I quit working when my husband retired because I learned the importance of making the most of every day and I wanted to spend quality time with him. With the passage and signing of the Affordable Care Act, the dark cloud of worry regarding health insurance coverage for me has dissipated."

And now, with my heart issues as well as cancer history, the “dark cloud of worry” is back.


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