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Friday, October 29, 2010

Health reform works wonders for breast cancer patients

Colleen Haller

Staff Writer

Finding out that you or a loved one has breast cancer can be one of the scariest moments in your life. Immediately, images of hospitals and doctors flood your mind, along with a million other concerns about treatments, side effects, and what this diagnosis means for the future. With all of that, money should be the last thing on your mind. Unfortunately, for thousands of people across the country, worrying about how to pay for treatment and other medical expenses is at the top of their list.

At least that was Jennifer Lewis’s experience. A few years ago, before Jennifer was diagnosed with breast cancer, her family switched insurance plans to one with a high deductible. The plan covered up to $7,500 per family member, more than enough to cover any medical expenses that came their way. That is, until someone gets sick. Jennifer’s diagnosis changed everything. After life-saving surgery and treatment, the Lewis family was left with $10,000 in credit card debt. Thousands of dollars in debt, and that’s with health insurance. No one can anticipate whether they will get a diagnosis like Jennifer’s, and insurance companies shouldn’t be able to sell plans that provide so little in exchange for their monthly premiums.

With the passage of the Affordable Care Act, consumers will now have some extra help keeping their medical costs in check. For starters, the new law limits out-of-pocket spending – extra costs in addition to premiums, such as co-pays and deductibles – to $5,950 for individuals and $11,900 for families. In addition, lower- and middle-income families will get even more help with their out-of-pocket costs.

There are a number of other ways that the new law will help people like Jennifer Lewis, including:

  • Banning insurers from having lifetime limits on coverage;
  • Empowering states and the federal government to review unfair premium rate increases;
  • Prohibiting insurers from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions;
  • Providing help with the cost of coverage to low- and middle-income families ;
  • Requiring plans to offer preventive services – including mammograms – for free; and
  • Expanding Medicaid eligibility so that low-income adults without children can get coverage.

These days, cancer is on everyone’s mind, and getting a diagnosis of cancer is one of people’s biggest fears. However, those fears should not be made worse because of cost. Families of cancer patients should not have to add worrying about money to their list of things to do. The new law offers some protection and peace of mind for families against runaway medical bills.