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September 16, 2011 1:10 PM When health care reform isn’t an abstraction

By Steve Benen

The Des Moines Register had an interesting piece yesterday on a local family who, through hardship, have discovered some of the virtues of the Affordable Care Act.

The story focuses on a young woman who contracted a rare fungal infection in her lungs, which nearly killed her. Her husband has been on unpaid leave in order to tend to his wife’s needs, and “has been able to do a lot of thinking” while at her bedside.

[Ross Daniels has thought about] what would have happened if portions of the new federal health care law had not been in place. His wife’s insurance had a million dollar lifetime cap on benefits. Her current expenses have already exceeded that. One medication — a potent antifungal agent — costs $1,600 a dose. Without the protection against lifetime limits the new law provides, they would have had to declare bankruptcy.

That law, derisively dubbed “Obamacare” by the president’s opponents, has been portrayed as the essence of evil among Republican presidential candidates. At a tea party-sponsored debate this week, front-runners Rick Perry and Mitt Romney vowed to sign executive orders exempting states from enforcing it. Michele Bachmann bragged of working for its repeal in Congress.

Those attitudes confound Daniels, who says, “It is hard for us to believe that so many of the GOP candidates would have us go back to a time where an illness like this would have forced us, or any other family for that matter, into bankruptcy.” He’s also grateful for the law’s protection against insurance companies denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

I’ve long hoped that this would establish a strong base of support for the Affordable Care Act over the long run. When individuals and families are confronted with slick attack ads from professional conservative liars, it’s only natural for them to be skeptical about the merit of the law. It’s a big shift and change can be scary.

But when confronted with a health care emergency, folks aren’t thinking about the latest Republican talking points; they’re thinking about their family’s needs. And in the case of this family in Des Moines, it was the dreaded “Obamacare” that protected their interests in a way the previous, dysfunctional system — the ones Republicans are desperate to return to — would not.

In time, I suspect, more and more Americans will have real-world experiences with the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, and those folks will discover that the far-right repeal effort isn’t such a good idea after all.

For the record, the young woman who nearly died is, after more than five weeks on a ventilator, finally able to breathe on her own, and no longer requires dialysis. Her medical bills will not force her family into bankruptcy.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • POed Lib on September 16, 2011 1:15 PM:

    My daughter is 24. She has had trouble keeping a job. She lives with us. She is on my insurance. As such, it is a great comfort to know that she will be covered for the next two years, and hopefully will have a job by then.

  • steve duncan on September 16, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Being a Republican means enjoying watching people die and never having to say you're sorry.

  • MuddyLee on September 16, 2011 1:20 PM:

    The modern Republican Party: pro-life during the gestation period, not so much after birth. We can't let them take control of America.

  • c u n d gulag on September 16, 2011 1:22 PM:

    Maybe the family should send a letter to the House and Senate Republicans asking them if they would have charitably donated to a fund for their family if they'd have had to go bankrupt?

    My bet is they wouldn't.

    After all, I'm expecting the Republican who'll break away from the pack and win the nomination, will be the first to say proudly:
    "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die."

  • Archon on September 16, 2011 1:35 PM:

    Everyone, even Obama's critics on the left and right know in their heart of hearts that the AFA will be vindicated by history.

    100 years from now people will be shocked to read that it barely passed, mostly from the objections of people already on the government's health care dole.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on September 16, 2011 1:38 PM:

    The right wing's flying monkeys should be showing up at the Daniel's any moment to look for marble countertops.

  • ManOutOfTime on September 16, 2011 1:40 PM:

    The old bromide you used to hear was "A conservative is a liberal who's been mugged." To which I've long replied, "A liberal is a conservative who's hit the donut whole in his health insurance."

  • MBunge on September 16, 2011 1:43 PM:

    "Iíve long hoped that this would establish a strong base of support for the Affordable Care Act over the long run."

    You know what else might help establish a strong base of support for the ACA and stuff like federal stimulus spending? If the Professional Left were to actually say nice things about them instead of crapping all over them every time the subjects come up.

    Mike

  • Daniel Kim on September 16, 2011 1:44 PM:

    So, when will the panel convene to determine if her life contribution potential is great enough to justify this expense?

    There are probably thousands or millions of similar stories of families who directly benefit from health care reform. Each family that benefits should be vocal supporters of the president and the Democratic party.

  • Gummo on September 16, 2011 1:45 PM:

    Republicans:

    "Whatever happened to personal responsibility! If this young woman hadn't been breathing, she wouldn't have contracted a lung infection. Breathing is a choice! Why should we all have to subsidize this woman's decision to breathe!??"

  • Brad on September 16, 2011 1:54 PM:

    thank you for bringing this to my attention. I am a High School classmate of Ms. Ward had not heard of her struggles. I appreciate what the ACA has done to help her and her family.

    As Eugene Robinson stated in his column today (paraphrased) -- government is an expression of our collective values and aspirations

  • Mitch on September 16, 2011 2:06 PM:

    My only problem with ACA is that it serves the Insurance Industry as much as it does the people. How much cheaper would health care be if the profits of insurance companies were not factored in? But, since it is impossible to have REAL Universal Healthcare in this screwed-up nation of ours, I am thankful that we have ACA (or will if the Repugs don't destroy it).

    Thanks for the good story Steve. All of my Conservative Friends are going to get this one in their email. :)

  • dalloway on September 16, 2011 2:16 PM:

    I have an idea. You know how those doctors are offering a 10K reward for any proof of mental retardation from the HPV vaccine to debunk Michelle Bachmann's ridiculous claim? Well, Democrats, take ten or a hundred or a thousand cases like the Wards' as proof of the good ACA is doing and then offer a big cash reward if Republicans can produce a single case of someone provably hurt by the ACA. Call it the "put up or shut up" strategy. Republicans can't handle the truth. I say bury them in it.

  • ShadeTail on September 16, 2011 2:22 PM:

    I've been living in fear for years about what would happen to my family if my husband lost his health benefits. We have two sons under 10 to look after, and I have a slew of preexisting conditions. We have been depending on my husband's work-plan for years. And now a lot of that worry is gone, because of the Affordable Care Act. No worries about lifetime limits, no worries about preexisting conditions, no worries about my sons magically losing their own health benefits when they finish college or whenever. And once more provisions kick in, no worrying about finding another plan if my husband's benefits somehow disappear.

    And then I see **other liberals**, of all people, bitching and pissing and moaning about how bad the ACA is. And I feel like wrapping my hands around their throats and throttling them as I scream about how, if they had their way, my sons would be much more at risk than they now are.

    Conservatives? That kind of brainless and heartless assholeism is to be expected from them. But liberals? Aren't they supposed to know better?

  • jJM on September 16, 2011 2:32 PM:

    To @dalloway: look no further than GOP candidate Cain who's claiming that he'd be dead under Obamacare, and one of those other Tea Party reps who made a similar claim about his son.

    They LIE!

  • craig on September 16, 2011 2:34 PM:

    I think many progressives complain because they thought the president should have gotten his hands dirty a little more. I certainly would have preferred universal healthcare. But I am also intelligent enough to know that it was not happening sadly. As such the ACA was about the best we could get. I agree with the comment that the main point of contention for me is the insurance company portions. Yes cut their marketing amounts but insurance companies are leeches so I would have had no problem seeing them take it on the chin. The president also was a little to cozy with them in the write up of the bill.

  • MBunge on September 16, 2011 2:41 PM:

    "The president also was a little to cozy with them in the write up of the bill."

    That's a completely understandable view as a long as your realize that kissing up to the insurance companies is one of the biggest reasons why Obama was able to pass any sort of health care reform.

    Mike

  • phein on September 16, 2011 3:04 PM:

    $1600.00 a dose??

    Geez, I had disseminated blastomycosis 10 years ago, and ended up on that anti-fungal for 6 months, two pills a day. The doc said it was expensive, and that the HMO wouldn't support it without separate confirmation of the diagnosis.

    Let's see, 180-days x 2 x $1600/pill = blacklisted by insurance companies, that's for sure.

  • tamiasmin on September 16, 2011 3:26 PM:

    Republicans may not be able to repeal ACA, but they'll almost certainly want to offset those $1,600 pills, say by cutting 1,600 school lunches per pill.

  • Peter C on September 16, 2011 3:53 PM:

    For-profit healthcare is fundamentally immoral.

  • Roger the Cabin Boy on September 16, 2011 4:33 PM:

    @Peter C "For-profit healthcare is fundamentally immoral."

    I think our Lord and Saviour himself favored a single payer healthcare and resurrection system.

    Capcha="Oberal Cataraugus". Sounds like some state motto.

  • Jilli on September 16, 2011 4:43 PM:

    I truly believe that those railing against "Obamacare" have never had a serious illness - you have no idea what it's like until you've gone through something big.

    I went through cancer treatments over the last 16 months, and every Friday when I was sitting in that chemo chair I couldn't help but think how lucky I was to have insurance - but at the same time, my heart hurt for all those who weren't as fortunate. The anguish and anxiety must be overwhelming. I sleep better knowing that others will be able to breathe a little easier. You'd think the so called "Christians" would be a bit more empathetic/compassionate. Health care reform - "Obamacare" - is HUGE - but most won't realize it til they're hit with the unthinkable.

  • exlibra on September 16, 2011 4:44 PM:

    I'm surprised that only one person here is astounded by the high per-dose price of the medication Mrs Ward had to take. Yes, the insurance companies are the middlemen who could lose lots of extra fat and still exist in comfort (remember what happened recently to Pell Grants? Nobody died of starvation when the extra layer of "management" was removed).

    But there's another component to it: the extortionate prices of medications, which the pharmaceutical companies charge just because they can, not because they contribute so much. For one thing, there are fewer and fewer new, "revolutionary" drugs being developed; there's a big trend now to, instead, tweak old drugs (so as to be able to extend the patent and stop the generics from being produced). There's also a trend to use old drugs in new situations (and patent those new uses). Not to mention that a lot of the research is already subsidised by us, through our taxes, at various universities. But few of the exorbitant profits are passed on to us.

    I'm permanently on a medication which is not hugely expensive, but the cost of which does pinch, even with the insurance covering a little over two thirds of it. There's no generic for it, though my doctor says it's just a matter of months now and the patent will be over and a generic will be available. I tried another, cheaper, drug and it didn't do squat for me, so had to go back to the old one.

    As my doctor (who wholeheartedly supports single payer universal healthcare) and I were discussing the price issue, he said something like "bad as your situation is, it's not as bad as some others. I have a patient whose single shot costs $2400. True, she only needs it once a quarter, but...". So I asked :"how much does the same medication cost in Europe? Or in Canada?" He gave me the drollest look and said: "I wish more people asked that question"

  • dalloway on September 16, 2011 5:06 PM:

    On exlibra's topic -- Republicans scream that Medicare is bankrupting America. But Republicans specifically prohibited the federal government from negotiating lower prices from drug companies when Bush rammed through his Medicare prescription drug bill -- a gigantic, ongoing giveaway to said drug companies. But Republicans would rather make Medicare a voucher system than touch a dime of their masters' profits. Ask your conservative friends what they make of that.

  • gelfling545 on September 16, 2011 5:23 PM:

    My daughter got medicaid today & I am celebrating. She was self supporting and insured by her employer until she was hit by a car in Jan of 2009 and unable to return to work.The woman who hit her was "underinsured" and her own car insurance was useless because she was walking, not driving. For the last year her income has been $0. The miniscule settlement she got was soon exhausted in paying bills. She got a letter from NY State Disability saying her hearing may take place sometime in the next year.Maybe. It took her 3 tries to get medicaid. We have been trying to treat her run of the mill illnesses with home remedies - gallons of cranberry juice for a bladder infection, etc., but she has therapies & medications related to her injury that we have not been able to get so there has been no real chance of improvement. I actually cried with relief when she got her notification today.

  • exlibra on September 16, 2011 8:24 PM:

    gelfling545, @5:23PM,

    I'm sure you must be vastly relieved. And yet... It's *despicable* that, in the richest, mightiest country in the world, it should take 2.5yrs for someone to get onto a very basic support system. Nor are all your troubles over, if what I hear here in VA is true in other states; once you have been cleared for Medicaid, you still have to find doctors who accept it. The US "healthcare system" is a total mess, which ACA only began to correct.

    dalloway, @5:06PM
    Yes, I know (as does my doctor). Unfortunately, *as far as I know* (I might be wrong), ACA does nothing to correct that situation. Close the donut hole -- yep; bargain for lower drug prices -- nope.

  • Bill on September 16, 2011 10:27 PM:

    My wife was recently diagnosed with MS. Our insurance has doubled to $1400/month in the past two years. I contacted an insurance broker who told us no insurer would insure us if we lost our current plan which has become unaffordable.

    I wrote to Senator Toomey (R of Pennsylvania) and he suggested the PAFaircare, but it has limited enrollment and you have to be uninsured for 6 months prior. Private health insurance does not work. Also the best he could do was a govt. program that he probably fought against.

  • Nancy Irving on September 17, 2011 5:54 AM:

    "slick attack ads from professional conservative liars" -

    Good one.

  • Dee on September 17, 2011 7:35 AM:

    More on exlibra's topic:
    I have health insurance through my employer, which includes a prescription plan (Medco). I take several daily maintenance drugs. I have seen my copay for the same drug, same dosage, go from $20 to $50 to $120 to $200, just over the last 4 years. Explanation from insurer - "We changed the classification of the drug."

    I have also been forced to change medications as they will no longer cover drugs from certain manufacturers. When I call to see why I can't get the medicine my doctor feels is the best choice for me, I'm told - "We don't deal with that company anymore"
    In order to receive the prescription benefits, that I pay for, I must use their mail order service. They will not cover any prescriptions filled anywhere else, other than a single 30 day prescription when a drug is first prescribed. Other than that, if you use your local pharmacy, coverage is denied.
    You can't shop around for a better price. It drives your local pharmacy out of business.

    This is an issue that needs more attention, and is a major factor in rising healthcare costs.

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