Sen. Bob Casey is absolutely right, and politicians who disagree owe it to their constituents to explain exactly why it is a good thing to eliminate the requirement, enshrined in the Affordable Care Act, that health insurance policies cannot deny coverage of pre-existing conditions.
Casey didn’t have to make his case at a gathering in the Henry Cancer Center at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Friday. Others did it for him.
“Unless you have the best genes on the planet, you have a pre-existing condition,” Jennifer Pensinger pointed out. The executive director of the PA Breast Cancer Coalition offered a disturbing statistic: 37 women a day are diagnosed with breast cancer. That’s 37 each day discovering they now have a “pre-existing” condition.
Geisinger Cancer Institute Chair Dr. Rajiv Panikkar talked of young people who got low-cost, low-benefit insurance, then were struck with cancer. Thanks to the ACA, they were able to revisit the market and buy insurance that would also cover their new health crisis.
“This touches everyone,” he said.
Casey conceded the ACA has flaws, but insisted the law should be fixed, not scrapped. He argued it has survived numerous legal and legislative challenges for eight years. “There is no reason why we should have to re-argue and re-litigate this issue.”
Yet that’s exactly what is happening, and here’s why: The new tax law zeroed out the penalty for not having health insurance, known as the “individual mandate.”
Officials from 20 states seized the opportunity and filed a lawsuit contending this makes the mandate unconstitutional. How? It was previously upheld as legal because it was deemed a tax, not a penalty. If no one’s paying it under the new tax law, it is no longer a tax.
The suit further argues the mandate is not “severable” from the rest of the law, so if it is unconstitutional, so is the rest, including the requirement to cover pre-existing conditions.
“Why would any politician, why would any policy maker, be making the case that we should deny people this kind of protection?” Casey asked.
Why indeed? Some 133 Americans have pre-existing conditions. Genetic testing will steadily increase that number. A pre-existing condition often starts out as a “new condition” — you didn’t have a history of diabetes, heart attack or a stroke until you did.
If that is not enough, consider the words of Arlene Warner as she broke into tears expressing the fear of her granddaughter Alexa losing medical coverage for cerebral palsy if the law is overturned.
“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 said to a hushed room. “All she wants is health care.”
Casey challenged his fellow legislators to stand up and promise people will keep the right to have pre-existing condition coverage. Every senator and representative in Washington — including Casey’s Republican challenger Lou Barletta — has this simple choice:
Guarantee the pre-existing condition clause stays law, or explain to millions of voters with such conditions why the protection must go.