My name is Andrea Hans. I am a senior sociology student. I am twenty-three years old and after a year and a half of battling illness, I received a bill yesterday for $68, 598. I dedicated the last six years of my life to working in healthcare when in 2012, a mass was discovered in my brain. Although benign, it requires constant medical follow-up and treatment with antiepileptic drugs. With insurance, the cost of my medication alone totals nearly $600 a month. For this reason, I fill the prescription overseas, where I can acquire a four-month supply for $55.
Medical bills have become the number-one reason for bankruptcy filings in the United States. A study published by the Journal of Health Affairs uncovered that 54.5% of personal bankruptcies were attributed to medical problems. While this might astound many, this is not surprising to me – my mother who suffers from two rare autoimmune disorders and nearly went into liver failure in 2008, filed for bankruptcy in 2011 when the hospital and doctor bills grew too large to ignore.
On Oct. 1, online exchanges that will allow uninsured Americans to easily compare and purchase insurance premiums take effect, as one of the final phases of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet, a poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 40% of Americans are still unsure of what this reform means. And with all the campaigns to block and defund the ACA, many are unclear if the health reform law is still indeed going into effect. In fact, Senator Ted Cruz’s attempted twenty-two hour filibuster on Tuesday to defund health care reform was less than three hours away from defeating the longest filibuster in United States history, third to Senator Strom Thurmond’s (R- South Carolina) 1957 filibuster opposing the Civil Rights Act.
Simply put, the purpose of the Affordable Care Act is to expand coverage to those who were previously being denied by insurance companies. These patients were considered too sick to cover; it will also cover those unemployed and unable to afford private insurance options, and to those who did not previously meet Medicaid eligibility. However, for those of us who already have insurance and still struggle with the cost of care, it is clear health reform has only begun. We can eat right and exercise, but illness can strike at any age, and the endurance that one must have to overcome physical and emotional challenges in fighting to stay healthy should not be accompanied by undue financial stress.
As I began to lose my hair last year because of aggressive medical treatments, I knew I could not give up. I will keep fighting because I am a survivor, with or without $68, 598. Nevertheless, from the perspective of a future physician and a patient, no one should face the prospect of filing bankruptcy due to overwhelming medical debt. While not the end to a tremendous and complex social problem, the Affordable Care Act is a hopeful step in the right direction.