Breast cancer survivor: The Affordable Care Act saved my life

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"The Affordable Care Act absolutely saved my life. Without it, I would have been dead."

The author, Karen Schoenfeld, is an accountant. She resides in Huntington Beach, California.

I’ve lived in Huntington Beach since 1974. For 10 years, I worked at a wonderful company and received incredible employer insurance from them. When I was 64 and on the cusp of retirement, the company was forced to close its doors, and suddenly, my insurance was gone. Once I found out I was going to be unemployed, I immediately looked into the Affordable Care Act (ACA). I signed up at the beginning of March for a start date of April 1. In the meantime, I hurried to get all of my annual tests done before my employer insurance went away.

One of the routine tests was a mammogram. They found something unusual and wanted to do an ultrasound. The day before my last day of employer insurance, they called me and said, “you need to come in for a biopsy.” I went in that morning still thinking “Everything is fine!” But the following week, I got a call saying that I needed to come to the hospital for the results.

From my biopsy, my doctor diagnosed me with a form of breast cancer called invasive ductal carcinoma. By this point, my employer coverage had ended, and my ACA coverage had started. Without it, I could never have afforded the treatment for my cancer, and I would have lost my life.

My battle with breast cancer was a constant whirlwind of consultations, surgeries, complications, radiations, and medications. The effects from treatment were battles, too. The surgeries to remove my cancer left me with open wounds which often became infected. Not only were these infections incredibly painful, but they also required additional doctors appointments and treatments. The radiation gave me permanent burns. Throughout the course of treatment, I endured five staph infections.

The fight against cancer often comes with these additional battles, and every one of them has a price tag. My personal expense from my first treatment would have been $200,000, and the test they ran on my tumor would have been $8,800. These costs were just the first steps. I could not have afforded them without the ACA, and I most certainly could not pay for all of the costs that followed.

I survived one hell of a battle. But I am eternally grateful because I am alive to tell the tale. Throughout all the agony, I was grounded by a powerful comfort: I had the health coverage to take care of all of this. When you’re met with this kind of diagnosis, the worst thing beyond the physical pain is the inability to afford to survive.

Last year my congressman, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Costa Mesa), voted for the American Health Care Act, which would have repealed the ACA. He sided with insurance companies’ right to discriminate on the basis of pre-existing conditions. He chose them over the millions of people like me.

The ACA absolutely saved my life. Without it, I would have been dead.