Before the end of June, the Supreme Court of the United States will render its verdict on the constitutionality of the new health reform law. The court may uphold the law, strike down all or some of it. If the court does not uphold the law, many Americans will lose the health care security that the new law provides.
The failure of the current health system to provide efficient, affordable care for all Americans is shameful. Health insurance costs, which now exceed $20,000 for an average family of four, undermine the economic security of American families. The individual stories we read in the press or encounter in our own lives are heartbreaking. Here are a few we know about first hand, with only the names changed:
* Flora, a young AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, has had type 1 diabetes since she was a small child. Without comprehensive health insurance, Flora could not afford the essentials that allow her to survive. Insulin, syringes and test strips alone would cost more than twice her monthly salary. Flora enlisted as an AmeriCorps VISTA to take advantage of what she assumed was excellent federal health insurance for government employees, only to learn that AmeriCorps has changed its insurance coverage, and no longer covers pre- existing conditions. If Flora requires emergency care or has to see a specialist, her insurance will not cover it. Jan. 1, 2014 can't come soon enough for Flora. Only when the health reform law ends discrimination against people with pre-existing conditions, will Flora feel her entire future is not in jeopardy if she has a medical emergency related to her diabetes.
* Ron was a veteran, a father and a husband. He became a type 1 diabetic in his early 30s. He worked a variety of low-paying jobs to support his family but none of his jobs provided health coverage. He rarely saw a doctor and managed his disease as best as he could. Family members tried to help out by buying glucose sticks to help monitor his blood sugar. At age 50, Ron suddenly died of cardiac arrest with diabetes a contributing factor. He left behind a wife and teenage son. Under the new health law, Ron and his family would have been eligible for Medicaid or subsidized private coverage. His diabetes might have been managed and Ron might still be alive today to enjoy his grandchildren.
* Tina is a waitress and a mother. Toward the end of her pregnancy, she developed preeclampsia, a medical emergency for both mother and baby. Fortunately Tina had health coverage through Medicaid and received excellent prenatal care, labor and delivery services. Tina delivered a strong, healthy son, who is now in college - a great athlete and good student. Thanks to Medicaid, he will do well in life. Two months after her son was born, Tina lost her Medicaid coverage and has not had health insurance since then. A couple of years ago, she developed a severe skin rash. She went to Health Right but was unable to get an appointment for a couple of months. Until she got treatment for the rash, Tina was unable to work and lost a couple months' worth of wages. Had the health care law been in effect, Tina would have been on Medicaid and received more timely and effective treatment.
* Bob, an entrepreneur in his early 60s, has had cancer. After his cancer, he lost his coverage and was unable to buy an individual plan. For years he worried about losing everything he had worked for if his cancer returned. Thanks to the health law, he is now eligible for coverage through a government supported high-risk pool and will soon be eligible for Medicare.
* A married couple, who own a small business in West Virginia, purchased and diligently paid their health insurance premiums for at least 10 years. Shortly before the wife was scheduled for major life- saving surgery, the insurance company stopped doing business in West Virginia, and the couple lost their coverage. Given the wife's impending surgery, no insurer in West Virginia would sell them a policy. Under the new health law, they will have a variety of private insurance options available to them.
The new health law, which is in process of being implemented, already provides relief from experiences like these for millions of Americans. When the law is fully implemented in 2014, millions more will enjoy greater health security. Will the Supreme Court of the United States support and promote equity and security for America's families or undermine it? We should know soon.
Pore is health policy director for West Virginians for Affordable Health Care.