PLAINS TWP. — Blind in one eye, tethered by cerebral palsy to a special wheelchair, Alexa Deal wasn’t on the agenda. Yet after several people sitting at a table with U.S. Sen. Bob Casey spoke about the need to make sure insurance covers pre-existing conditions, it was Alexa’s grandmother who punctuated the message with tears.
“We coudn’t be here without a nurse,” Arlene Warner said as 15-year-old Alexa, her mother and a male nurse sat in the small room at Geisinger’s Henry Cancer Center. In fact, she said as tears welled, without the Affordable Care Act assuring Alexa’s multiple health issues were treated, her granddaughter wouldn’t even be able to live at home.
“All she wants is health care,” Warner said. “She can’t go to a dance, she can’t go to a movie, we can’t go places. We can’t give her a lollipop!”
Warner, the nurse and Alexa left for a restroom to deal with another problem the child was having, and Casey, a Democrat from Scranton, broke the silence. “I don’t know what more we can say.”
Casey said this was his fifth meeting across the state with people eager to testify to the importance of a mandate in the Affordable Care Act barring insurance companies from denying coverage of a pre-existing medical condition. He noted that and other provisions in the law are under attack in a court case known as Texas vs. the United States.
Brought to a district court by 20 states, the suit contends the tax cut act signed by President Donald Trump effectively made one provision of the law — a mandate that all adults have insurance or pay a penalty — moot, and that in turn the mandate is unconstitutional. The suit further argues that if one section of the law is declared unconstitutional, the rest of it is, including the mandate to cover pre-existing conditions.
Suggesting few people realize the threat to the pre-existing coverage, Casey said the issue should have been settled for years.
“We shouldn’t be here. There is no reason why we should have to re-argue and re-litigate this issue,” he said. “This is an insult to the country. This is an abomination.”
Several people offered testimony.
Scranton School District teacher Bridget McAndrew recounted not only her own seven-year battle with a metastasized breast cancer that some predicted would kill her in five years, she also talked of her husband passing out and needing a pacemaker, and her son diagnosed at 12 with Crohn’s Disease.
“Eliminating pre-existing conditions (coverage) in our family would be very detrimental.”
‘This touches everyone’
Matt Stefanelli, who launched a private psychotherapy practice with his wife, said he couldn’t do that full time until ACA assured coverage of his asthma and his son’s type 2 diabetes. “Should these protections for pre-existing conditions be revoked I would have to close my private practice,” he said. “It’s a huge burden on us as a family, and something we’re really scared of.”
Jennifer Pensinger, executive director of the PA Breast Cancer Coalition, said 37 women a day are diagnosed with breast cancer. Prior to the passage of ACA, she regularly got calls from women who couldn’t get insurance because of diagnosis, or had to pay too much for insurance that didn’t cover their needs. “We can’t go back there,” she said. “We’re all frightened and scared and thinking how are we going to tell these women that it will be OK.”
Adding that her husband has had diabetes for 41 years, Pensinger said the issue affects everyone. “Unless you have the best genes on the planet, you have a pre-existing condition.”
Geisinger Cancer Institute Chair Dr. Rajiv Panikkar, who’s son has epilepsy, agreed. “This touches everyone.”
Casey grew passionate during his own remarks, pounding on the table and raising his voice, arguing that the risk could be eliminated if those who filed the suit narrowed the scope of their claim, or if legislators made it clear they will do whatever it takes to assure the mandate remains for coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Noting 5.3 million Pennsylvanians and 133 million Americans have pre-existing conditions, he asked “why would any politician, why would any policy maker, be making the case that we should deny people this kind of protection?”
As to Alexa and her family? Her mother Amy gave her own appeal to protect her daughter’s coverage, and admitted surprise when her mother spoke up so defiantly.
“She’s never done anything like that!”
Reach Mark Guydish at 570-991-6112 or on Twitter @TLMarkGuydish