I remember the day the health care law passed three years ago. The law made history as one of the most significant pieces of health related legislation since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid. On a personal level, it fundamentally changed the course of my life. At the time, I was 20 years old, a college student, and facing the reality that I would be kicked off my parents’ high-quality private insurance, on my twenty-first birthday. I would have limited, if any, options for health insurance and it put me face to face with my own mortality.
I was born with a serious, rare disease. Without high-quality health care, or health insurance, I would suffer potentially fatal consequences. Most children who are born with my disease, toxoplasmosis, have profound side-effects that can include organ failure, blindness, and intellectual disabilities. Throughout my childhood, I was fairly healthy. But during high school I began to face the realities of what it meant to have this disease. I had neurosurgery to replace the 16-year-old shunt that was installed to drain spinal fluid collecting on my brain, and I lost vision in my left eye when the parasite attacked my eyes. Since then, I have struggled to remain healthy and have had several shunt replacements and eye surgeries.
Knowing how stressful, painful, and scary these experiences were with health insurance, as I got older, my family and I went into a panic. We knew I would no longer be eligible for their insurance, and we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I would be denied coverage due to my multiple pre-existing conditions. This was where we were in March 2010.
But everything changed three years ago, when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.
Over the last three years, my fear has disappeared and has been replaced with a profound sense of hope and empowerment. Now, I can stay on my parents’ plan until I turn 26. As a 22-year-old college graduate with multiple pre-existing conditions, I could not be more grateful. Moreover, now there are no more lifetime limits on how much my insurance company will pay for my essential health benefits – and annual limits are ending, too. And in 2014, the health care law helps to ensure that I cannot be denied coverage due to my chronic illness.
However, there is greater hope beyond what I am experiencing personally. The governors of many states are getting behind expansion of Medicaid coverage for Americans who may find it difficult to afford private insurance. The states and the federal government also are creating a Health Insurance Marketplace for each state, where people can compare health plans based on price and benefits and purchase the one that best fits their needs. Open enrollment starts Oct. 1, 2013, with coverage beginning as soon as January 2014.
I am eager to see what the coming years will bring. The Affordable Care Act is still a new law, and there is certainly more work to be done. It will not happen overnight, nor will it be easy. However, in just three years, we are already well on our way to building a more equitable, effective, and high-quality system of care. This is not the end; it is merely the beginning.
Read more about Abby’s story here.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services supports the statements by the guest author of this article.