Health care reform and cancer

In the summer of 1986 I became a health insurance aficionado. I was prompted to really take charge of my family's health insurance after spending $10,000 to bring home my new baby daughter, Kirtley, in fall 1985. She was six weeks early and I have yet to tell her that I had to put her on a credit card to leave the hospital – and this was with health insurance.

I had just never read the fine print. I was an insurance dummy. Never again, I vowed. Because my husband at the time was self-employed and I was freelancing while taking care of our baby, I searched and searched to find a policy that had a low out-of-pocket before they paid 100 percent and would be affordable at $200 a month for the family. Yeah, I know it sounds low, but remember that this was 25 years ago. I signed us up on August 1, 1986.

The reason I remember the date so well is that in October, 1986, when my daughter was 13 months old, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 37.

The insurance policy covered all but $1,000 and I was reassured that the system could work if I was diligent. But when it came time to renew my policy, August 1, 1987, I received a letter from the insurance folks that I was now going to have to move to a high-risk pool and our monthly cost would be $800 – four times the monthly rate I had paid, and one that we could not afford. I called to no avail, learning that basically insurance companies can do anything they want.

I was one of the lucky ones since I had just taken a job teaching at Southern Methodist University and had numerous options for good health care. With the one month grace period on my old policy, my family was covered with three days to spare.

It has only taken 23 years to get a law that will make what happened to me against the law. President Obama plans to sign the bill on Tuesday.

I know it's complicated to read and understand what is happening in health care reform. It's particularly hard if we have to translate the rules to cancer and how it will affect us. I don't understand it fully, and I know that whatever is passed will have to be tested and loop holes filled. But it's a start.

The best place I have found to read what it means for us as cancer survivors is found on a chart compiled by Catherine Knowles at the Colorectal Cancer Coalition (C3) that compares the House versions, the Senate version, and the House Reconciliation version we will get soon. Read it, and try to educate yourself so you won't be taken in by the one-liners on either side. If you want a more detailed exploration, the Kaiser Foundation has put up another side by side.

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