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Opinion: The ACA changed how we treat cancer — and it is all at risk because of our current leadership

Health is a fragile thing. We’ve been told this over and over, but often it’s hard to imagine that we are anything but invincible.

There are certain moments in our lives when that changes. The world is currently living through one of those moments. But for us, that moment came when we were given a cancer diagnosis.

There was a time in this country when learning you have cancer meant an impossible choice: face exorbitant and often-bankrupting costs, or death.

Dafna Michaelson Jenet

Just over 10 years ago, even if you had insurance when you got your cancer diagnosis, your insurance carrier could kick you off or stop payment after you reached a designated spending cap.

At that time, health insurance was out of reach for many Americans, but cancer does not discriminate based on job status or income.

These predatory practices were brought to an end with the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) 10 years ago this month.

In the time since the ACA’s implementation, millions of Americans have had their access to preventative cancer care vastly expanded, and patients are now able to access screening like mammograms and colonoscopies at no charge. And thanks to the ACA, insurers can no longer deny coverage to those who had cancer and beat it.

The ACA has changed the way we treat cancer in the U.S., and it paved the way for innovative efforts to fight the disease here in Colorado.

Laura Packard

Last year, Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, who is a two-time cancer survivor, sponsored and passed​ ​HB-1301​, which further expanded the kinds of preventative cancer screenings insurance is required to cover because of the ACA.

To strengthen the ACA’s preventative care requirements, we also require Colorado insurers to cover not only initial cancer screenings, but also any subsequent visits. Colorado’s pioneering health care laws are building on the foundation of the ACA, making our state a leader in the national fight to expand health care access.

Nearly three years ago, Laura was diagnosed with cancer. She was fortunate to have a good insurance plan through the marketplace. As someone who is self-employed, access to quality health insurance was nearly impossible for her before the ACA.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

Her treatments for stage 4 cancer, including chemotherapy drugs, hospitalizations, and radiation therapy, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, money most people don’t have. She survived and didn’t go broke because of the ACA coverage requirements.

That’s why it’s imperative we put a stop to the health care repeal lawsuit, currently waiting to be heard by the Supreme Court. Should the ACA be outright repealed, insurance companies will once again be free to prey upon cancer patients, kicking them off of their plans or denying them coverage outright.

As the coronavirus health emergency underscores, access to affordable, high-quality health care cannot be a privilege. The ACA provided Americans with access to preventative cancer screenings and vitally needed treatment for people who are diagnosed.

Ten years down the road, as a pandemic spreads throughout the world, access to affordable health care is crucial to ensure everyone can obtain testing, treatment and, eventually, a vaccine to keep their families and communities safe. We must continue to improve, not attack, the law that gave so many Americans access to quality health care.

Dafna Michaelson Jenet is a state representative of House District 30, which includes Adams county. Laura Packard is a small business owner and stage 4 cancer survivor living in Denver, and is a co-chair of Health Care Voter.


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