We Can’t Go Back: Pre-Existing Condition Protections are at Risk

By Jill Zorn |

Before working at Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, I was Programs Director at the Connecticut Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  Every day we answered phone calls from people living with MS.  Some of the most disturbing phone calls were from people in danger of losing their jobs because they were too sick to go to work.  Losing their jobs would mean losing their health insurance coverage.  Losing their coverage would mean losing access to the medical care and prescription drugs they needed to function.  And, because of their pre-existing condition, they couldn’t get affordable coverage any other way, until they qualified for Medicare due to disability-a process that could take several years.

When the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010, I remember the relief I felt that the clients I worked with at the MS Society would no longer have to worry about getting health insurance, even if they could no longer hold down a job.  That is because a bedrock provision of the ACA is that insurance is available to almost all U.S. residents, including people with pre-existing conditions, and premiums don’t vary due to health status.

But now, in 2018, that sense of relief is gone.  The Trump administration not only refuses to defend the pre-existing condition protections of the ACA, they are arguing that these protections are unconstitutional.   Other sabotage efforts, like the cancelling the individual mandate penalty or promoting the sale of junk insurance, are undermining the insurance pool.  These policies will keep healthier people out, raising the cost of insurance for people with health challenges who cannot afford to risk going without coverage.

Ironically, at the very time that pre-existing condition protections are coming under increasing attack, a new Kaiser Health Tracking Poll was just release showing that Americans across the political spectrum strongly value those protections.   Of those surveyed, 76% said it was “very important” that people not be denied coverage because of their medical history and 72% said it was “very important” that health insurance companies be prohibited from charging people more sick people more.

All of us either already have a pre-existing condition, or are sure to develop one as we age.  We all have to worry about a return to the days when a current or previous illness could mean not getting the health care we need, bankruptcy or even death.

Even insurance companies aren’t necessarily eager to return to the bad old days.  Here is an excerpt from a recent op-ed, We Can’t go Back to the Dark Days of Discrimination Based on a Pre-Existing Condition, co-authored by the CEO of the nonprofit Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts along with the mother of a daughter born with a serious heart defect:

What kind of society punishes any of us for the random cruelty of disease or misfortune?… There is a fundamental truth at stake: Whether we are healthy or sick, we are all created equal.  More than 52 million people, according to some estimates, have pre-existing conditions… CEOs of health insurance companies don’t want to keep refighting the same old battles.  Parents want to care for their children, who deserve futures defined by their hopes and dreams, not their ailments.

It is hard to accept that the fundamental ability of people to access health insurance, regardless of their health and where or whether they are able to work is once again at risk.  In every other developed country, health coverage is simply a right that every resident deserves regardless of employment or health status.  The ACA took us much closer to that reality.  Now we are sliding backwards.

The battle to preserve the gains made under the ACA is far from over.  We must do everything we can to push back against the many attacks that are underway at the federal level and to pass laws and implement policies in Connecticut to lock in the crucial protections provided by the ACA.  But it is also time to start fighting for something better, to move forward again toward the ultimate goal of universal health care.