|By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press|
"Without it, I would have been dead on
It's not clear how the
The law's opponents say if that insurance mandate is found to be unconstitutional, the rest of the law should also go, since courts should not be picking and choosing policy. The administration defends the insurance requirement but says if the court decides to overturn it, most of the rest of the law should stay.
State officials who administer the federal pre-existing condition plan in 27 states are trying to make fallback arrangements in case the law is invalidated and coverage suddenly terminates.
"Some of these individuals are critically ill and are being treated for very serious illnesses, whether it be cancer or HIV-AIDS, and we feel a responsibility to them to do what we can to see they don't lose access," said
Federal officials who administer the plan in the remaining 23 states and
"It's scary," she said. "They need to look at this carefully because it is going to affect a lot of people with a lot of bad conditions who are not going to have any health care coverage."
Before PCIP, Watson had been uninsured since 2003, originally turned down because of elevated white blood cells. About three years ago, she was diagnosed with a chronic form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. Unable to afford medications, she relied on the emergency room to treat flare-ups.
She tried applying to a major insurance company for a small business plan for her and her employees, and was quickly rejected. Then she heard about PCIP.
The temporary program is meant to serve as a patch until 2014, when the federal health care law will require insurers to accept all applicants, including cancer patients like Watson, regardless of medical history. The law's controversial mandate for individuals to carry health insurance is related to that guaranteed acceptance provision. By forcing healthy people to buy insurance, it would help keep premiums in check.
Initially, Watson could not afford the
But officials retooled to make coverage more affordable. Watson applied again and was accepted. She met the basic requirements: uninsured at least six months, turned away because of pre-existing conditions, having U.S. citizenship or legal residence. Her premium is
In March, Watson went to the emergency room with what she thought was pneumonia. She was admitted, and quarantined the next morning when tests showed she had an antibiotic-resistant bacterial infection, highly dangerous. She spent five days in intensive care.
Without her PCIP coverage, Watson is convinced she would have been sent home from the emergency room after initial treatment to ease her shortness of breath.
"I'm not a candidate for any for type of indigent program, and without insurance they would not have put me in ICU," she said.
"I would have gone into cardiac arrest and probably died," she added. Emergency rooms must treat the uninsured, "but they are only required to get you stable. And then they release you and tell you to go to the health department."
A government report this year found that people in the pre-existing condition plan tended to be middle-aged patients with no access to employer coverage and with medical conditions that require continuous care. The top five diagnoses: cancer, heart disease, degenerative bone diseases, organ failure requiring a transplant and hemophilia.
If the federal law is struck down, some state officials are considering taking the patients into their own, separate, state high-risk insurance pools.
Republicans, including presidential candidate
Watson says she still disagrees with Obama's requirement that individuals have health insurance, either through an employer, a government program or by purchasing their own plan. "I approve of some of it," she said of the law, "I don't approve of the mandatory ... insurance."
But she doesn't want to go back to depending on the emergency room.
"I have no problem paying my insurance and paying my copays," she said. "I just think I should have the right to purchase insurance."
Pre-Existing Condition Insurance Plan: https://www.pcip.gov/
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