By Matthew Simon
Channel 2 News
7:33 PM AKDT, July 25, 2012
It's a growing debate, as national attention has been intently focused on health care: the denial of medical coverage based on pre-existing conditions.
About 1,800 additional Alaskans have applied for individual insurance plans this year alone, and, according to Earling, roughly 250 of those applicants have been turned away due to pre-existing conditions.
“The critical issue is trying to create balance so all these costs are able to be covered and the premiums are kept under control as much as possible for all of our customers,” Earling says.
Earling estimates another 160 Alaskans will be turned away by Premera before the end of 2012 due to pre-existing conditions, which leaves applicants with only one other avenue for coverage.
"There's a high risk pool that's specifically designed to be able to offer coverage to the folks with specific medical needs," Earling says.
"The specific issue there is you want to encourage people to buy and maintain medical coverage," says Earling.
On an overcast July night, Wendy “Bliss” Snipes greeted friends at Hill Top Ski Area’s Chalet, each receiving a big bear hug.
"Oh, my goodness. Thanks for coming. How are you?" Snipes said, her voice one of elation, as she greeted each attendee. All were there to participate in a "Benefit for Bliss," a fund raising effort thrown by friends to help Snipes as she struggled financially in her fourth battle with cancer.
Snipes and her husband have been struggling to make ends meet financially. Bliss is no longer able to work consistently, and the family's income has plummeted.
“It's cut our income into a single earner income rather than a double. We were both working full time before,” said Snipes' husband Chris.
Chris Snipes said the motivation for the benefit was to raise some money to cover expenses that Wendy's insurance would not, including the cost of an upcoming four-month-long hospital stay in Seattle.
“I knew that wasn't going to be possible without some sort of help,” Snipes admits.
Despite all the emotional and financial struggles, the Snipes consider themselves lucky. Wendy's genetic blood type is a rare, one-eighth Tlingit. It's both a blessing and a curse. Her rare genetics are the primary reason a suitable blood donor has been so hard to come by. It's also the reason Wendy now qualifies for enrollment in a unique clinical trial.
Once chemotherapy completely wipes out her blood system in the coming months, she will need a bone marrow transplant. Matching bone marrow will either be donated by one of Snipes' parents or potentially could come from available umbilical chord blood.
“The goal being it will overtake her weakened blood system and replace it,” husband Chris explains.
The treatment is not without danger, but Snipes says there is comfort in knowing it will not come without the burden of many additional medical cost. Snipes' Tlingit lineage qualifies her for Indian Health Services insurance in Alaska.
"I feel for anybody that doesn't have good insurance and doesn't have a good grip on having to pay it," Wendy says.
Snipes has had to battle debt from a lack of insurance in the past. Still staining her credit report are cancer treatment bills from when she lived outside of Alaska and had no access to Indian Health Services. She sympathizes with others who are not as fortunate.
"It's like you're already fighting something. Why do you have to fight it again?" Snipes asks in frustration.
The video diaries serve as an emotional "insurance policy." One that Snipes never wants to cash in on.
Snipes says she still has so much more to say and remains confident time is on her side. Her husband echos the same sentiment.
“She’s going to get through this after the transplant," says Chris. "Hopefully the blood system takes hold and is a healthy one and solves the cancer issues from here on out, and we'll live a happy, healthy life,” Snipes says.
The "Benefit For Bliss" raised more than $17,000. The Snipes say the money should be a big help in defraying expected costs. The couple travels to Seattle for the blood replacement next month.
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