Inslee signs bill that protects ACA health care insurance practices
Michael Marchand, chief marketing officer from the Washington Health Benefit Exchange, contributed to this story.
Six weeks after then-34-year-old Nikki Dziedzic gave birth to her son, she underwent surgery for thyroid cancer — her second cancer diagnosis. She received her first diagnosis at age 16. During her pregnancy, her endocrinologist suggested she get an ultrasound just to be sure the cancer wasn’t back. So, while getting one of her final pregnancy ultrasounds, they checked her neck and found two cancerous nodules. After she got surgery to remove the cancer, the surgeon said she will never be cancer free, which means she needs to be diligent about getting screened for the rest of her life.
“It turned out not to be such a fluke that I had cancer the first time, and it looked like it would be with me for a long time,” she said. “That was very stressful. We were thankful to have insurance and that my cancer treatment was covered even though it was a pre-existing condition.”
Ever since she got off her parent’s insurance at 26, finding insurance that houses patient protections for pre-existing conditions was paramount in her mind. Without the Affordable Care Act, her life choices — like whether or not she should have kids — may have been different because she knew she would likely grow a large amount of medical debt and spend much of her time battling insurance companies.
“It had been so many years in between diagnoses so it was a little disappointing for my future to hear that it was back,” Dziedzic said. “But I know with strong patient protections, I feel like somebody finally has got my back. I’m tired of calling my congressman to make sure the Affordable Care Act isn’t repealed by Congress so I’m really happy this bill is being signed. It really brings me peace of mind that it’s not under attack here.”
Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Wednesday that will reinforce significant number of consumer protections in the Affordable Care Act, including the much-discussed right that no person will be denied health coverage because they have a pre-existing medical condition. Dziedzic and her son stood with the governor during the signing, along with Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler (who made brief remarks) and primary bill sponsor Rep. Lauren Davis.
“This bill assures Washingtonians that regardless of what happens in D.C., we’re protecting your access to care here at home,” Inslee said. “This means you can’t be denied insurance after surviving cancer, it means you can’t be forced into bankruptcy because of a lifetime cap, and it means you can’t be forced to pay for basic and essential health benefits such as contraception and mammograms.”
Inslee released a statement in March against the Trump administration’s push to repeal healthcare for millions of Americans. Inslee and Kreidler warn that although this new law helps Washington consumers, the state still needs ACA protections on the federal level. 800,000 people who have health care coverage in Washington are still at risk if the ACA is repealed because it would eliminate Medicaid expansion and low-income subsidies.
The new law addresses unfair practices against consumers, and protects a variety of benefits connected to private health insurance coverage offered in Washington. Among other things, the law includes a requirement that the state offers and explains health plans to any resident regardless of health status. The law also continues open enrollment periods, adds limitations to coverage cancellations, prohibits annual or lifetime limits as well as waiting periods and maintains coverage of the 10 essential health benefits introduced in the Affordable Care Act.
Pam MacEwan, CEO of the Washington Health Benefit Exchange emphasized the importance of this bill.
“The provisions in the Affordable Care Act have been a positive for our state,” MacEwan said. “Our customers have come to rely on them when making decisions related to their health plan and the coverage that they choose. Keeping them in place is not just beneficial, it is necessary.”
Before the ACA guaranteed access to coverage, regardless of any pre-existing conditions, Dziedzic and her husband were limited in the kinds of jobs they could take because they needed an employer who provided good health insurance. When her husband wanted to start his own business a few years ago, Dziedzic’s first thought was whether she would get insurance that would cover her medical costs. Thanks to the ACA, she didn’t have to worry about it.
Before her recent surgery, she didn’t know if she would be able to breastfeed because there was a possibility she would get radiation as part of her treatment plan. She prepped during the first six weeks by pumping more than 300 ounces of milk. She ended up not getting radiation after the surgery so she donated her milk to kids who needed it.
After the surgery, her husband took a photo of her at home breastfeeding their son. A large ice pack rested on her neck. By any measure, a person would feel miserable in that moment, she said. But she felt happy.
“I was thrilled to be nursing my baby,” she said, choking up. “It was a tough time but it was a happy moment to be there and be present. When you get a cancer diagnosis, you don’t know what the future holds. That’s why I’m happy to have this bill pass. I will always vote for whoever is going to protect people’s health care. Everyone has a pre — existing condition, they just may not know it yet. I’ve always said everyone is one accident away from needing access to health care and this shouldn’t be a social service — health care is a right.”
This bill is one of several that legislators are passing this session to address consumer issues such as protecting consumers’ rights, improving affordability and expanding access to services and increasing transparency and quality.