Guest op-ed: Junk insurance plans almost killed me. Trump just made them worse.

health care

On Wednesday morning, the American people learned that the Trump administration had expanded junk insurance plans that are designed to allow insurance companies to vastly cut benefits and profit off of American working families.

This move is yet another Republican attack on the Affordable Care Act and on the lives millions of Americans across the country—including my own. I am a stage 4 cancer survivor, and if I still relied on the junk insurance I used to have, I would probably be dead.

The administration’s move expands the availability of so-called ‘short-term’ insurance plans that target healthy Americans and strip away the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) consumer protections. These plans offer used-car prices by providing a false security: as soon as a patient requires serious medical attention, the plans limit their care or deny them coverage entirely.

Look under the hood, these plans are a lemon. If you face a medical emergency while on these plans, don’t expect your insurance to protect you.

Junk insurance threatens all Americans. Healthy people are lulled into a false sense of security, because they’ve never had to test drive their coverage for anything serious. Their absence from the wider health care marketplace then raises health care costs for everyone else.

As a self-employed small business owner, I have been buying my own policies on the individual market for nearly a decade. For years, I had no idea the danger I could be facing if something happened to me—and up until last April, I was pretty healthy.

Before the passage of the ACA, I would choose the cheapest plan available for self-employed people like me. I didn’t worry too much about what those plans covered or didn’t cover, because I never saw a doctor more than once a year for a checkup. I had a series of dangerous short-term plans like the ones Trump is trying to sell us now, but didn’t even know it. Like many Americans, I assumed my insurance would protect me when I needed it. I was wrong.

Before the ACA, these companies were allowed to do whatever they wanted, including refusing to cover needed benefits — when access to expensive care like cancer treatments means life or death. Or throwing them off a plan when they became sick. This was our reality before the Affordable Care Act.

Once the ACA became law, I was able to switch my insurance to a more robust plan. It was just in time. Last spring, I learned I had cancer—without treatment, my doctors told me I wouldn’t make it to December.

Because of the Affordable Care Act, I am still here; if I had still been on junk insurance, I might not be. Companies could have denied me coverage or canceled my policy outright, or I would have hit annual or lifetime limits, and I wouldn’t have gotten the care I needed to stay alive and be in remission today.

When I worked to help pass the ACA in 2009, I met many Americans who were less fortunate. People who were abandoned by junk insurance companies in their greatest time of need. Instead of receiving the coverage they deserved, patients faced medical bankruptcy and sometimes death. The insurance game was rigged against us.

The Trump administration and Republicans in Congress want us to return to that reality. When the cost of our health care rises over the next year, remember that it’s because of their choices to break our insurance market instead of fixing it.

I am tired of the attacks. I am frustrated, I am angry, and I am scared for myself and for my friends. In November, we will have the opportunity to stand up for families who need access to care, and hold the spineless politicians accountable for their actions.

Laura Packard
Laura Packard is a Las Vegas health care advocate, co-chair at Health Care Voter, and a Democratic strategist.

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