Thursday, June 28, 2012

I am a pre-existing condition

I consider myself a great many things: a runner, an entrepreneur, and a storyteller are among just a few. But unfortunately, over the last few weeks my experience trying to obtain health insurance has forced me to see myself as something else: a pre-existing condition.

I left my job at USC, excited to join a great start-up working to create financial access for millions of poor entrepreneurs in India and elsewhere. The organization is visionary, but they’re also young and thus unable to offer health insurance for their employees at the moment. In my excitement to do something I am passionate about, I never imagined the struggles I would have to obtain health insurance on my own.

The cost is exorbitant. Typically $170 a month will get you a modest plan. Two to three visits a year to the doctor for a $40 co pay. I pay any costs beyond that, out of pocket, until I reach my $3,500 yearly deductible. After I have paid $3,500 out of pocket, the insurance company pays 70% and I pay 30%. So something like a broken leg, can easily set you back $7,000, and that’s with insurance!!!

But if like me, you have asthma, things are even worse. Many are denied health coverage because of their pre-existing condition. Me, I underwent multiple humiliating interviews that made me feel like a second class citizen before a top carrier agreed to carry me, for a $50 a month surcharge.

The letter I got from one health insurance company

I am a runner, having competed in multiple half marathons and marathons. I have controlled my asthma since 1995, and never once had an asthma attack. But these facts matter not. At the end of the day, we have a healthcare system built less on cura personalis (care of the entire person) and more on bottom line. Insurance companies see me as two things: a pre-existing condition and $$$.

The Supreme Courts decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act is a landmark moment for our nation. But it is also an intimately personal victory for me, and the countless individuals like me who don’t think asthma or some other controllable condition should in any way be able to influence or limit their desire to be entrepreneurs.

I try to avoid politics on this blog, but this decision feels more than political to me, it has become deeply and agonizingly personal. The Affordable Care Act, Obamacare as some call it, has countless stories and human faces beyond the thousands of pages and heated political debate. I am one of those faces, one of countless stories affected by this decision.

America, at long last, moves slowly toward a standard of care seen in every other industrialized nation in the world. And come 2014, health insurance companies will be forced to see me as anything BUT a pre-existing condition. 

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