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Lives hang in the balance as time runs out for action on health insurance

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Five years ago I was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Yet I’m the lucky one. I could afford to get treatment.

Too many people in America don’t have the health care they need, even today. The 2021 American Rescue Plan included subsidies to make health insurance more affordable than ever, resulting in a record-breaking health insurance enrollment of 14.5 million Americans for 2022.

The expiration of these crucial, live-saving subsidies is right around the corner. And unless renewed, voters will receive news of their 2023 premium hikes right before the November midterms.

I’m a small business owner, and my health insurance has been through the Affordable Care Act ever since it was an option. Before the ACA, I used to have junk insurance. There wasn’t any better option for small business owners and freelancers. I took my chances, because I had no other choice. And then I got cancer.

It cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to save my life, to pay for the six months of chemotherapy and month of radiation treatments I needed to remove the malignant tumors throughout my body. If I still had that junk insurance policy, today I would be bankrupt or dead.

But instead, I could afford to be in remission. Because I was diagnosed and treated after I had an ACA health insurance policy, the Affordable Care Act covered my ruinous expenses after the deductible kicked in. However, surviving cancer is not cheap. I still have medical bills every year, as my care team includes multiple specialists for cancer and for long term survivorship. My health insurance is my lifeline.

I didn’t qualify for subsidies in 2017, but thankfully I could afford the out of pocket cost of a subsidized ACA plan. Many Americans can’t.

Without swift action from Congress, tens of millions of Americans will face skyrocketing premium increases, pricing them out of health insurance. Congressional inaction will rob them of live-saving care — during a global pandemic. Many millions of Americans will face lifelong medical conditions based on COVID-19 alone.

Senators are officially back in their offices, following a two-week break. As they set their agenda for the last few days before the Aug. 5 recess, they must prioritize a renewal of the Obamacare subsidies in any upcoming negotiations on a budget reconciliation bill. The deadline for a budget bill is Sept. 30, but insurance companies are already pricing in their increases now for next year.

Republicans have been consistent in their opposition to life-saving access to health care, and have voted against Americans’ health care for years. They will not act to shore up the ACA in a bipartisan manner. So all 50 Senate Democrats and a majority of House Democrats must band together to avoid the impending catastrophe if these health insurance subsidies expire. President Biden is calling for a renewal of the ACA subsidies in the American Rescue Plan now, Congress must deliver.

American lives hang in the balance — there is no time to waste. Too many of us live in fear of our health care being threatened. Going without insurance is not an option when you have a chronic disease or condition, or the possibility of cancer or a heart attack or a stroke returning.

Please contact your senators and representatives today to push them to make health care finally affordable, starting with renewing the ACA subsidies in the budget reconciliation bill now. We will all be health care voters in November, but action on the advanced premium tax credits must happen now.

Laura Packard is a Denver based healthcare advocate, cancer survivor and contributor to Colorado Newsline, which first published this essay.

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Lives hang in the balance as time runs out for action on health insurance