//Jessie Bauer, mom of two, credits the Affordable Care Act for saving her life following a thyroid cancer diagnosis in 2016. Photo provided by Bauer.
In March of 2016, Jessie Bauer’s life was threatened in a way she never saw coming. Cancer took hold of her.
Every day since, she’s been thankful for a piece of legislation that passed a decade ago, known as the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as Obamacare.
At the time, the mother of a baby girl and five-year-old boy with autism spent her days and nights preparing meals, teaching the ABCs and rocking her kids to sleep, while her husband clocked in hours outside of the home.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for almost seven years,” Bauer said. “All of our health insurance was through my husband’s employer.”
And then a vortex of calamity upended her whole world. After feeling never-ending fatigue and intense mood swings combined with difficulty breathing, Bauer underwent tests that uncovered a golf-ball-sized tumor blocking her airways and depriving her brain of oxygen. She was diagnosed with thyroid cancer at the age of 33. At the same time, another part of her life was unraveling.
“My marriage blew up. My body was growing cancer. I felt like a ticking time bomb,” Bauer said.
Newly diagnosed with cancer, a pre-existing condition, she and her husband filed for a divorce. And as a result, she lost health care coverage, leaving her with one option as she underwent cancer treatment—she bought her own health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act.
“It saved my life and prevented my children from potentially not having a mother,” Bauer said.
Looking back, despite the high-priced premiums Bauer paid and delays she faced under the ACA, she knows it could’ve played out much differently.
“They have to allow people with pre-existing conditions to have access to health insurance, denying access to health insurance is literally killing people,” Bauer said.
Millions of other stories like Bauer’s exist, which is why all eyes will soon be on the U.S. Supreme Court.
On Nov. 10, justices are set to hear arguments in a case brought by more than a dozen Republican-controlled states, led by Texas and supported by the Trump administration, challenging the Affordable Care Act.
The lawsuit seeks to void the 2010 health reform law, arguing that the entire law became unconstitutional after Congress eliminated the tax penalty in 2017 for those lacking coverage, known as the individual mandate. If that happens, it could lead to millions of people losing health insurance, especially low-and middle-income Americans, those with pre-existing medical conditions and those without employer-provided insurance.
Colorado has made several changes stemming from the ACA’s passing, including expanding Medicaid. The state also set up its own health insurance marketplace, called Connect for Health Colorado.
Joe Hanel, Director of Communications of the Colorado Health Institute, is part of a team that independently researches and tracks health data and policy. He predicts several rippling effects in Colorado if the ACA is ruled unconstitutional.
“If the whole thing gets thrown out, it would be next to impossible for Colorado to afford its Medicaid expansion. And people who are getting subsidies on the insurance exchanges, they probably wouldn’t get the subsidies anymore,” Hanel said.
Erin Miller, Vice President of Health Initiatives for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a non-profit and non-partisan organization advocating for children’s health and well-being across the state, fears it could upend the lives of children in the middle of a pandemic.
“Health care provides security for families that allows kids to thrive,” Miller said. “It improves mental health status, even if people don’t actually access treatment for mental health issues. It’s just knowing that, like if you get sick, you won’t lose everything. It reduces depression in adults by about 30%, just having coverage.”
Before the pandemic, Miller’s organization found more than 70,000 children in Colorado lacked health insurance. She believes if there’s an erosion of coverage under the ACA at the federal level, we could return to the days of the wild west of health care.
“Before the Affordable Care Act, women paid twice as much for coverage as men when the coverage that they bought didn’t cover maternity care, prenatal care, postnatal care, and delivery,” Miller said.
Behavioral health services often went uncovered and coverage denied for pre-existing conditions was the norm before ACA, she added.
Due to differences in populations and policies across states, the ACA’s potential repeal would play out differently from state to state.
Colorado State Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg is keeping a close watch on the Supreme Court and its decision surrounding the ACA’s future.
“If the newly-packed Trump Supreme Court overturns the ACA, we will not hesitate to take action at the state level to ensure Coloradans have access to the care they need,” Fenberg said. “To take away health care from people in the middle of a global pandemic is insane.”
Fenberg is confident if it is dismantled, Coloradans will not be left without coverage.
“We’ll do everything in our power to return some sanity to the situation by approaching it with a Colorado-specific solution if necessary, such as a public option and other structural reforms,” Fenberg said.