Advocates praise Obamacare's preexisting condition rule

ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — Advocates of the Affordable Care Act said Friday that one of its threatened provisions — a requirement that insurance companies cover people with preexisting conditions — was a critical part of the law and should remain.

“It feels like Congress and insurance companies are punishing me for wanting to live, for surviving past infancy, and it’s a terror I have to face everyday,” said one of the advocates, Leighan Gonzales. She said she was born with a heart condition that required open heart surgery before she was 6 months old.

The Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — has been opposed by conservatives since the day it passed in 2010. The latest attack is in a Texas courtroom, where attorneys general from 20 states are challenging the entire law. The Trump administration has said it wouldn’t defend some of its key provisions, including the preexisting conditions requirement, because courts have already declared another part of the law unconstitutional — the individual mandate that requires most people to buy insurance or pay a penalty.

As one of his first acts in office, Gov. Bill Walker expanded Medicaid to low-income Alaskans who otherwise failed to qualify for the public health insurance. Two of the officials at the Friday news conference at the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center were members of Walker’s administration, Commerce Commissioner Mike Navarre and Dr. Jay Butler, the state’s Chief Medical Officer.

Navarre said he’s been a close observer of healthcare costs since his days as an elected borough official in Kenai and his service on a local hospital board there.

The Affordable Care Act has problems, Navarre acknowledged, but he described it as a “marked improvement” over what existed before. He said Walker is trying to enact bipartisan improvements in cooperation with other governors.

Alan Gross, an orthopedic physician from Southeast Alaska and an advocate for the law, asserted that some of the opposition to the Affordable Care Act comes from states that decided against expanding Medicaid.

“States that expanded Medicaid like Alaska are now getting a lot more federal dollars for healthcare each year than the states that did not expand Medicaid,” said Gross. “States that did not expand Medicaid are trying to reclaim those federal dollars by tearing down the medicaid expansion aspect of the ACA.”

Rep. Ivy Spohnholz, an Anchorage Democrat, said she was one of the people with preexisting conditions who might have trouble getting insurance without the Affordable Care Act. During the previous legislative session, Spohnholz left Juneau when doctors discovered blood clots in her lungs.

“Those rare blood disorders could make me ineligible for health insurance coverage in the future if pre-existing conditions were allowed to justify an exclusion from coverage,” Spohnholz said. “With treatment, my rare blood disorders are just a maintenance problem. Without treatment, they could become life threatening.”

Perhaps the most emotional advocates at the news conference were patients themselves. Sherri Roberds came to the podium with her two college-aged children, both of whom had Type 1 diabetes.

“They need insulin to live, period. Whether it’s covered or not, that’s what’s required for them to live,” Roberds said. “We’re fortunate, currently, that they can be covered under my health insurance till the age of 26.”

Later, her son, Joseph Amodemo, said he didn’t find it improper that his treatments — costing about $1,700 a month — were subsidized by others.

“Anyone, no matter how healthy you are — I’m an example of that — can be diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and then it’ll get to the point when it just hits you like that, you wouldn’t be able to afford it without healthcare,” Amodemo said.

Besides, he added, it’s not unusual for taxes from one group to help pay for another’s needs — whether it’s police, fire service, the military, or healthcare.

“It’s one of those things that as a community, we all need to be responsible, to make sure every member of the community is safe and protected from anything, including medical issues and medical costs,” Amodemo said.

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