Elena from Albuquerque’s Affordable Care Act Story

Earlier this week, I told some of Elena’s story in a speech on the Senate floor. Today, I shared the full story, written in her own words:

For the past 18 months I’ve been carrying around a big secret. I’ve felt really guilty for not sharing it, and yet — try as I might — I could not work up the nerve to tell you all. Lucky for me, Senator Udall has helped me to rip off the band-aid.

In spring 2016, I found out that I have a BRCA [brak uh] 1 mutation, which puts me at a very high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Women with a BRCA 1 mutation also tend to get breast and/or ovarian cancer very young. Sometimes even in their twenties or thirties.

When you have a BRCA 1 mutation, you have two options: One, you can get breast screenings every six months and yearly ovarian screenings, and keep your fingers crossed that nothing pops up. Or two, you can get your breasts and ovaries removed and significantly decrease your odds of getting cancer. Needless to say, there’s not really a “right” decision. A woman’s choice just comes down to what she feels is right for her body and life.

In the past 18 months, I’ve gotten to check a whole lot of things off my “absolutely not on my bucket list” bucket list. In April 2016, I had my first breast MRI, which revealed a lump that my doctor thought might be breast cancer.

I then had my first mammogram, my first breast ultrasound, and my first breast biopsy.

These tests thankfully revealed that I didn’t have breast cancer. They also helped me to make the difficult decision to have a prophylactic mastectomy and significantly reduce my chances of getting breast cancer.

In August 2016, I had a prophylactic mastectomy. And in October and February of this year I had follow up surgeries to have my breasts reconstructed.

Since February, I’ve been focusing on healing, and I feel great.

Obviously, this isn’t the end of the road. Doctors suggest that women with a BRCA 1 mutation get their ovaries removed around age 40. And of course screening will continue to be important. But for now, I feel at peace knowing that I’m doing what I can to protect myself.

As Senator Udall mentioned, at the time that all of this health stuff came up, I had health insurance thanks to Medicaid Expansion through the ACA/Obamacare.

I first enrolled in Medicaid about three years ago when I was a law student at UNM School of Law.

UNM had just given qualifying students the opportunity to enroll in Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. I was a healthy 29 year-old with no preexisting conditions, and doubted I would ever use my health insurance. Little did I know, completing the Medicaid application would be one of the most important decisions I ever made.

So, a truly genuine, #thanksObama [read: Hash-tag Thanks Obama] to President Obama, his staff and all of our elected leaders who worked to make the ACA happen and are fighting to keep it alive.

I am so grateful that I qualified for Medicaid at a time in my life when I unexpectedly needed health insurance more than I could have ever anticipated.

I am so thankful the drafters of the ACA understood that allowing me to get the preventative care I needed was better for my health, and also more financially sound. The ease with which I have received my medical coverage has allowed me to focus on my recovery.

While it has been a challenging year and a half, knowing that I could trust my health insurance made it so much easier than I’d imagined it would be.

I am so relieved that now I can focus on my future instead of figuring out how to pay off insurmountable medical debt.

I am fully recovered from my surgeries and am working on moving my life and career forward. I look forward to paying taxes (I swear, I really do) to support programs like Medicaid so that I can do my part to assist other Americans in staying healthy.

If you had told me when I signed up for Medicaid that I would make such extensive use of it, I wouldn’t have believed it. At times, I have felt guilty for having to utilize Medicaid at a time in my life that has proven to be so medically and financially complicated.

Friends and family have been good enough to remind me that this is what Medicaid is about: ensuring that Americans can afford to take care of their health, regardless of their financial state, when an issue strikes. The Affordable Care Act has made this a reality for more people than ever before; I am so grateful to be one of them.

I am very scared for what the future will bring for those many individuals who have received insurance thanks to the ACA. I worry that if the ACA is destroyed, my preexisting condition will make it financially impossible for me and many others to get health insurance.

I worry for people who couldn’t get insurance through their work and were finally were able to get it through the Exchange. I worry that those who suffer from ailments that constantly affect their health won’t be able to afford the care they need.

I worry about the millions of Americans who are about to lose so much.

I understand that the ACA is not perfect. It needs some work, especially for people on the exchange who are paying premiums that are way too high. But the replacement plan that is being proposed is going to make it incredibly difficult for all of us to get quality, affordable coverage.

There are no words to adequately express my gratitude to all those who worked so tirelessly to make the Affordable Care Act happen. I am so hopeful that instead of destroying the ACA, our leaders will work to make it stronger so that all Americans can get the health care they deserve.

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