She was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis last summer.
Donna Edwards. CREDIT: AP/J. Scott Applewhite
A former congresswoman is pleading with Congress not to pass its plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), saying doing so wouldn’t just hurt millions of Americans — it would also likely result in her former colleagues hindering her own access to life-saving health care.
In a Washington Post op-ed published Friday evening, former Maryland Rep. Donna Edwards details her personal struggle with health care costs.
Edwards, a Democrat, writes that she was “proud” of helping pass the ACA in 2010, which required her to purchase insurance on the D.C. health exchange created by the legislation. The often staggering costs of health insurance, however, became strikingly real for her in June 2016, when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system.
“That morning, I went to the House floor to join the sit-in,” she writes, referencing the 2016 sit-in that helped force a Senate vote on gun violence prevention. “But hours into our protest, the House attending physician called me to his office to tell me I had multiple sclerosis…At first, I couldn’t process what he was saying. I thought I had a pinched nerve; I didn’t know anything about MS. Devastated, I blinked away my tears and went back to the chamber, where I stayed for the remainder of the evening.”
Edwards says she decided to tackle the disease head-on, but notes that the costs for treatment are staggering. She says medication halting the progression of the disease costs roughly $73,000 a year, and her three yearly MRI scans amount to about $7,000 each. Her insurance — an $800-a-month COBRA plan — runs out in June 2018.
“I’m not sure what I’ll do then,” she says.
Her underlying concern is that MS likely qualifies as a pre-existing condition, which are not protected under the House and Senate health care bills in the same way as they were under Obamacare.
Although Republicans argue insurers cannot deny patients with pre-existing conditions under their proposal, the bill that was passed by the House earlier this year could still allow this practice to occur in several ways. It would permit insurance companies deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions who have a gap in their coverage. It would also allow states to alter what qualifies as an “essential benefit” by applying for a broadened list of waivers — which means even if Edwards and others with pre-existing conditions who haven’t allowed their coverage to lapse can get an insurance plan, it may be one that doesn’t cover their specific needs.
“I don’t have a preexisting condition because I was a bad person who led an unhealthy life. I have a preexisting condition simply because I do; and I, like millions of other Americans in the same situation, deserve quality, affordable health care.”
Edwards’ piece comes as the Senate’s version of this health care bill is beginning to unravel — partially in response to debates over whether it will guarantee affordable access to care for low-income people on Medicaid and people with pre-existing conditions.
Republicans struggled to garner enough votes to pass the bill earlier this month, with lawmakers from all sides refusing to back the proposal as written. When the Congressional Budget Office assessed the latest draft in late June, their assessment was bleak: according to their analysis, roughly 22 million Americans will lose their health insurance under the bill by 2026.
Sen. Mitch McConnell and the GOP leadership ultimately delayed any vote until after the July 4 recess, but the time off only made things worse: Now, more senators appear to have abandoned the bill during the break, as it has proven wildly unpopular with constituents and virtually every state governor.
Advocates say the fight is likely far from over, however, noting that the House health care bill also stalled earlier this year only to reemerge months later and ultimately pass.
As such, Edwards closed by rebuking the increasingly prevalent conservative argument that people who need health care coverage did something to deserve their situation. Instead, she notes that her pre-existing condition is not the result of unhealthy behaviors, as she has lived an unusually active lifestyle that involves regular running, biking, and athletics.
Perhaps, she says, her former colleagues will remember her plight next time they consider a vote that could leave her — and millions of other Americans — without care.
“I’m doing fine. I’ve adjusted to my new body and different capacity,” she writes. “But I pray that as you finish doing whatever it is that you are doing with health care, you remember that I was one of your colleagues, that I worked hard and that I don’t have a preexisting condition because I was a bad person who led an unhealthy life. I have a preexisting condition simply because I do; and I, like millions of other Americans in the same situation, deserve quality, affordable health care.”