The Affordable Care Act — aka "Obamacare" — saved my life. Yes, this is for real. It happened last year. If not for the ACA, I would either be dead and buried or in so much medical debt I would never get out from under it. I thought long and hard before writing about this. But after seeing the crazy things members of the GOP said about Obamacare at their convention and hearing their mantra, "Are you better off than you were four years ago," I decided to go public about my experience with Obama's supposedly evil, socialistic government takeover of health care.
When I left Creative Loafing as a full-time employee in late 2005, I continued health insurance coverage through U.S. Department of Labor's COBRA. A few months later, I started noticing some odd symptoms, which I won't gross you out by describing further. Finally, a new symptom let me know something was definitely wrong, so I told my doctor. Her eyes widened. Long story short, a couple of tests later, I got the word — I had cancer of the bladder.
Luckily, we had caught it fairly early, so removing it (the cancer, not the bladder, God forbid), although nobody's idea of a treat, wasn't as big a deal as I'd anticipated. COBRA covered the vast majority of the cost. Six months later, the urologist discovered the cancer was making a comeback. Soon, I had another successful procedure, after which the doc recommended I undergo a preventative process that's been effective in thwarting future bladder cancers. But I had a new problem: my COBRA insurance would run out before I could begin the preventative procedures. I wasn't happy about it, but I decided I'd have to forego the procedures and "wait and see."
Nearly three years went by without any sign of trouble; I was relieved and rarely thought about cancer anymore. But in late 2009, around the time Congress was going through convulsions over Obama's health care reform bill, a minor symptom showed up again. My reaction was along the lines of "Oh, hell." I certainly couldn't afford treatment, so I started looking for health insurance again. Guess what? Since I had previously had bladder cancer, insurance companies wouldn't give me the time of day, except for Blue Cross Blue Shield, which offered me a half-assed plan for around $1,500 a month.
Meanwhile, Obama signed the Affordable Care Act in March 2010. Lucky for millions of people, including myself, Obama had insisted on letting individual states create insurance pools — immediately — to benefit folks like me with pre-existing conditions. Gov. Bev Perdue still had a Democratic majority in the legislature, and North Carolina's federal insurance pool was quickly launched. I signed up. It wasn't cheap, but was still way better than Blue Cross' extortionate "offer." New insurance card in hand, I headed to a new urologist (the old one didn't accept the new Obamacare insurance).
One of the most surreal experiences of my life will always be when I lay on an examination table, a camera-in-a-tube in my bladder, hearing from the doc that I now had four cancerous tumors, as we watched them on-screen and marveled at how, well, pretty they looked. Four pinkish sea anemones, waving languidly as if they were on the bottom of the sea rather than inside my body, doing their damage.
This time, the surgery (there was no more talk of mere "procedures") was heavy-duty and recovery was unpleasant and took longer than the first time around. The total bill was enormous, more than I could ever handle, and most of it was covered by, yes, the Affordable Care Act.
During my last visit with the urologist, I asked him what would have happened if the cancer had remained untreated. He began to explain that my bladder would have to be removed, but I interrupted him: "No, I mean what if it had gone untreated, period." The doc, a likeable guy, was straightforward: "Well, it would kill you."
I have written several times, including last week, about problems with the Obama administration, and those remain in place. But I also have to give the guy his due. His much-maligned Obamacare program, a good two years before full implementation is finished, saved my life — literally, for real, sure 'nuff, and whatever other words you use to denote down-to-earth, physical reality. I'm still here because of Obamacare. So, yeah, I'd say I'm definitely better off than I was four years ago, and it's a direct result of Obama's persistence in getting his flawed but, again, life-saving plan enacted into law. Government social policies do make a difference for the better in people's everyday lives. Others' lives have been saved the same way, too. It's high time we journalists tell those people's stories.