Montanans Tell Their Health Care Stories

This week I’m sharing stories from Montanans who will be impacted by a deadly rewrite of America’s health care system. We need to ensure Montanans have their voices heard. #WhatsAtRisk

After a minor heart incident in 2004, from which I completely recovered two months later, I was denied health insurance. They used every incident in my medical record to justify not covering a person who went to the doctor and took care of himself. I could not afford any medical intervention on several conditions that continued to worsen. In 2013 I was involved in a vehicle crash and grossly self-underinsured. I am still paying St Pats the equivalent of a new F250 every month. Nine years after my first denials I was insured through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and managed to catch up on some of my health issues. Among other things my back was too far gone and needed a double fusion. This year I had total knee replacement. I have endured years of pain and could not work. ACA has changed everything and I am returning to an active, productive life again.”

- Justin Anthony (Missoula, MT)

I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis in 2011, five months before the protections provided by the ACA were upheld by the Supreme Court. Even though I had insurance through my job, I spent those months terrified my life was going to involve a constant struggle to maintain continuous coverage and struggles with insurance companies to cover the medications and medical care that keep me healthy. When the Supreme Court upheld the ACA it took a weight off my shoulders and helped me breathe a sigh of relief. I could no longer be denied coverage due to my MS. As an otherwise healthy 32 year old, MS was a shocking and devastating diagnosis. Without the ACA, my life would be a nightmare. I’m protected in so many ways by this law, even though I have employer provided insurance.

The ACA helps everyone, no matter whether you buy insurance through the exchanges or it is provided by your job. It protects people in ways that you don’t have to think about until you’re sick: the preexisting condition clause is the most commonly cited example of how the ACA helped people access insurance, but there are other parts of this law that are equally important like the elimination of yearly and lifetime limits on coverage. These limits seem large, but having a chronic illness makes you realize it’s possible to reach them with just routine check-ups and procedures. If the ACA is repealed, and I have to rely on Republican alternatives like high risk pools or health savings accounts — neither of which are adequate for my disease — my future is again unstable, due this time to the callous disregard of human decency, rather than the effects of MS.”

- Julie Williams (Shepherd, MT)

My husband and I are among the millions of Americans who can now afford health care thanks to the Affordable Care Act. In the past few years, we’ve both been able to receive the regular checkups and testing that every American should have access to. As a result of this preventative care, we’ve been able to catch a few conditions early and possibly avoid compromised health later. We feel SO BLESSED by the peace of mind this legislation has brought us in a very real way, every day. Having said that, we are very concerned about the possibility that we might lose coverage or see higher premiums, and I have heard from many friends and family in other states who are struggling with costs. We rest easier knowing you will do all you can to protect your constituents by making improvements to a system that, while not perfect, has improved the lives of countless Americans. We feel very fortunate to be among them. Thank you!”

- Jennifer Williams (East Glacier Park, MT)

I graduated from college in the midst of the Recession. Finding a full-time, well-paying job was difficult, let alone an employer that offered benefits. The ACA allowed me to remain on my parents’ insurance plan until I turned 26 — without it, I would’ve likely been on MedicAid or gone uninsured. Since then, I’ve used the exchange to buy health insurance that fits my budget and my needs. I’d like to add that I work seasonally and move across state lines at least twice a year, and because so many insurance companies have a limited number of in-network providers, this means I have to cancel and re-apply for insurance twice a year in order to be covered locally. I would absolutely love to see the US move towards a single-payer system, which — aside from being more humane and practical — would allow me to receive medical care wherever I am in this great country of ours!”

- Emily Paulson (Billings, MT)

Our story is one of many in which the ACA has helped us tremendously — especially the Medicaid expansion that our great state voted to accept. Four years ago, my wife and I decided to cash in what chips we had saved and start a little organic farm on a piece of land that has been in my family for three generations. Transforming a raw strip of land into a verdant vegetable farm capable of supplying vegetables for a couple hundred families has been the most challenging thing we’ve ever done, and sufficed to say, things were lean the first few years. Knowing that our children would have health care allowed us to take the kind of risk that our nation is built on. Our growth has been exciting, and we hired two new employees this year. Without the help of the Medicaid expansion, we would not have been able to reach this dream. Please fight for this and so many other great things the ACA has done for us.”

- Jay Cummings (Kalispell, MT)

My son and his wife had not been able to afford private health insurance until the passing of the ACA. With ACA, they were finally able to health purchase health insurance. When my daughter-in-law became pregnant, it was discovered that she had a blood clotting disorder making the pregnancy very high risk. Without the ACA, they would not have been able to afford the care that was needed for this pregnancy. Because of ACA, she was able to carry this pregnancy to term and deliver a healthy baby girl. We are so grateful for ACA.”

- Judy Barber (Anaconda, MT)

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner at Community Health Partners in Bozeman. As a Primary Care Provider, I have been given both the opportunity and the responsibility to serve patients in the Gallatin Valley. Often, I have found that a patient’s plan of care is more and more determined by their ability to pay than by medical research and best practices. But the Affordable Care Act is helping to change that. I don’t see just a few patients who are benefiting from the ACA. I see hundreds. These are hardworking families and individuals. They all have stories — some triumphant and some tragic — about how they are trying to better themselves and contribute to this great state. As a healthcare provider, I see their faces up close, and I feel their pain with them. And when patients are uninsured, I am the person who has to look these people in the eyes and tell them that because they cannot afford it, certain avenues for care are simply unavailable. It’s as if I am telling them that because they are uninsured, their lives are less important. Lawmakers don’t have to have those difficult conversations with patients, but I do.”

- Kristi Thane (Bozeman, MT)

My husband was diagnosed with metastatic prostate cancer several years ago. When surgery and radiation were unsuccessful in eradicating the disease, he was referred to one of the Pacific Northwest’s leading specialists who prescribed a combination of medications. Our out-of-pocket expense after payment through Medicare Part D was approximately $10,000 per year, a sizable sum for seniors on a fixed income. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, eliminating the “donut hole” benefit, the effect would be catastrophic for seniors relying on such medications to sustain their lives. The elimination of a lifetime cap is also a grave concern for patients requiring ongoing care. Yes, the ACA requires improvement, but there is so much good within it for so many. I urge you and your colleagues to make the necessary improvements, but most definitely not to repeal what has certainly been progress in American healthcare.”

- Pepper Miles (Butte, MT)

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