Over the last week, we have continued to hear about proposed changes to our health care system from the President-elect and members of Congress. Some of those changes would have a significant impact on the cancer community. Next week, we will start to break down how those changes might impact the cancer community. However, this week, we wanted to talk about pre-existing conditions.
What is a Pre-Existing Condition?
“Pre-existing condition” used to be a term that only health insurance companies and health law attorneys used. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) made that term more common, because the ACA prohibited health insurance companies from denying coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition. A pre-existing condition is any medical condition that exists before the health insurance policy begins; the condition “pre-exists” the policy. A pre-existing condition is often thought of as a serious medical condition, such as a cancer diagnosis. But prior to the ACA, insurance companies would routinely deny coverage to anyone with conditions such as arthritis, allergies, asthma, or even acne. Really, any medical condition was a reason for denial. And this had a huge impact on the cancer community. Over the close to two decades that we have worked in the cancer community before the passage of the ACA, we would often have to to tell people that they didn’t have any option to access health insurance coverage because of their pre-existing condition. The ACA changed that.
This change to our health care system was so significant that most people don’t want to see that portion of the ACA repealed. The President-elect and the Speaker of the House have both said that they would want to continue to provide protections for people with pre-existing conditions. However, they have not provided details on whether they would do that by keeping the ACA rule, or create some other option.
Last week, we highlighted a few of the consumer protections in the ACA, some of which apply to plans offered by employers, plans offered through the State Health Insurance Marketplaces, and individual and family plans that you can buy directly from an insurance company. Those consumer protections would be lost if the ACA were to be repealed.
Assuming that they keep the rule that ensures people with pre-existing conditions can purchase insurance, that rule by itself, isn’t enough to protect consumers, and here’s why:
- Coverage: the ACA ensures that plans have a minimum level of essential health benefits.
- Without this protection, people with pre-existing conditions might still be able to buy a plan, but the coverage might be minimal (like not covering mental health care or prescription drugs).
- Caps on benefits: the ACA does not allow insurance companies to place annual or lifetime caps on essential health benefits.
- Without this protection, people with pre-existing conditions might still be able to buy a plan, but the plan might cap benefits at $100,000 for the year, or $1 million for a lifetime, or even lower, leaving people to pay for medical expenses out of pocket.
- Rescissions: the ACA forbids health insurance companies from canceling your policy, unless your commit fraud on your application or leave off important information.
- Without this protection, people with pre-existing medical conditions might find their policies cancelled after submitting an expensive claim that the health insurance company doesn’t want to pay.
- Prevention: the ACA requires most health plans to provide free preventive care.
- Without this protection, we will go back to having to pay co-pays, co-insurance amounts, and deductibles when receiving preventive services, and many people will be forced to forgo that care.
- Out-of-pocket maximums: for plans sold in the Marketplaces, the ACA placed a cap on how high the out-of-pocket maximums could be, which greatly reduced out-of-pocket costs for people with pre-existing conditions.
- Without this protection, people will likely see even higher out-of-pocket medical costs.
And finally . . .
- Price: the ACA requires US Citizens, and those lawfully present in the US, to have health insurance coverage (with some exceptions).
- Without this requirement, many who are not currently in need of medical care, will not buy health insurance coverage, leaving only people with pre-existing conditions buying coverage. If we do not have a balanced risk pool, which includes people who are healthy as well as people with more serious medical conditions, then health plans will likely increase monthly premiums for everyone. In addition, if those people who are healthy wait until they get sick to buy coverage, that will further skew the risk pool and increase premiums even more. If the plans are too expensive to buy, then it won’t matter that people with pre-existing conditions are “allowed” to buy health insurance coverage.
We hope that our elected officials will keep these issues in mind as they make their decisions over the next few months on any changes to health care system.
What You Can Do
We will have to continue to wait and see what happens, but in the meantime, there is something that you can do.
- Share your experience and concerns: Call or email your elected officials and share your health insurance concerns. To find your elected officials or learn more about becoming an advocate, visit our Advocacy resources page. You can also find the Facebook and Twitter handles for the current members of Congress here.
- Tell your story: Share your story with Families USA or the National Coalition of Cancer Survivorship (NCCS), two health care advocacy organizations that are working to help our elected officials understand the dire consequences of repealing the ACA and how certain changes to our health care system can impact us all. But they need the stories of real people. If you feel comfortable doing so, you can share your story at http://familiesusa.org/share-your-story or at canceradvocacy.org/blog/share-your-aca-story.
Do You Need Health Insurance Now?
We also want to remind you that change is Washington is rarely swift and that we may not see changes for most of 2017. That means that we have to continue to operate with the system we have for now and ensure that people have health insurance coverage for 2017. If you do not have health insurance coverage, you can apply for Medicaid at any time or purchase a policy through the State Health Insurance Marketplaces until January 31, 2017. If you want your policy to begin on January 1, 2017, you need to have picked a plan by December 15, 2016.
For more information about how to choose a health insurance policy (including making choices between employer-sponsored options), watch our recorded webinar. If you aren’t sure what your health insurance options are, our recently released toolkit, Finances 101, may be useful.