Gayle Rundstrom has been living with multiple sclerosis for the last 30 years. She describes the disease as debilitating, but thanks to the Affordable Care Act, Rundstrom has been able to keep her health insurance, reducing the financial impact on her livelihood and preventing her condition from needlessly worsening.
“I don’t have to worry about whether or not I would be able to get health insurance at an affordable rate,” Rundstrom said Thursday during a press conference with Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash. “Don’t take that peace of mind away from me.”
Rundstrom joined Cantwell and several other Vancouver residents with pre-existing conditions to speak about the potential impact of eliminating the ACA’s provision that prevents insurers from denying care.
The Department of Justice recently announced it would not defend those protections as a suit filed by several state attorney generals seeks to overturn the ACA.
“In my over 20 years of working here at the Vancouver Clinic, the most important health care initiative that I’ve been involved with is the 2010 health care law,” said Alfred Seekamp, chief medical officer at Vancouver Clinic. “It’s provided care to millions of people, many of whom have never had the opportunity to have health care before.”
More than 3 million Washington residents have a pre-existing condition. Cantwell said about 188,000 of those live in Clark County. The definition of a pre-existing condition is broad and can include pregnancy, allergies, high blood pressure and diabetes.
For Pat Janik, the condition is severe arthritis.
“I grew up as what I’m sure my sweet mom would call a good, responsible girl,” Janik said. “I ate a healthy diet, I exercise, I don’t smoke or drink in excess, I maintain a good body weight.”
But her healthy lifestyle can’t prevent arthritis. Janik has already had both shoulders, one hip and one knee replaced as a result. The other knee replacement could happen at any time, she added.
“How could I afford those hospitalizations, those surgeries, the doctor visits, physical therapy and medication?” she asked. “Please don’t take that away.”
Cantwell said striking down the pre-existing condition provision would “add to the chaos.”
“Managed care is the secret here, not challenging people and kicking them off of care,” Cantwell said. “We know if people don’t have insurance or can’t pay for it, it’s not as if the demands for their health care needs will just disappear.”
Removing the provision — and thus making it harder for individuals to get health insurance — will lead to deferred care at a higher cost, she added.
Washington legislators, such as Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, who also attended the press conference, are good partners to help protect Washingtonians and their access to health care, Cantwell said.
“Our state is innovative in health care, and we need a good partnership at the federal level to keep that innovation going,” she said.
She added that Washington has been able to do more with less as the state averages between $2,000 and $3,000 less funding per Medicare patient.
“We’ve been forced into efficiency, and yet, we’re doing it, and we’re doing it better,” she said.
As to what may happen if the ACA is in fact overturned, Cantwell said she’s unsure what the path forward may be.
“I’m just so impressed with our state and places like (Vancouver Clinic),” she said. “This is where we need to be going in health care. Access to care is the best way forward. Even if you’re not affected, it’s still the best way forward.”