Survivor Stories

Ashley From California: “To insurance companies, I was more of a liability than a human being worthy of saving.”

At age 25, I had my first scare with cancer when a mole I’d had my entire life turned out to be stage 1 melanoma. Despite being insured, more than $10k in out-of-pocket expenses accumulated for this relatively minor brush with cancer. Far more damaging, however, was the resulting “pre-existing condition” that would forever tarnish my health record.

“I’m one of the lucky ones. Fortunate enough to live in California, a state that accepted federal funding for expansion of Medicaid, I qualified for Medi-Cal assistance and could access care at UCSF, one of the foremost research hospitals in the country.”
Three years later during a gap in employment at 28 years old, I noticed a lump appear in my abdomen. Unable to justify the hefty out-of-pocket expense I knew I’d incur just to step foot in a clinic without insurance, I put off having it checked out. When the mass grew to the size a walnut over the course of the next month, it was only then then that I gave in to seeing a doctor. The results from pathology came by cold email. It was written that my melanoma from years before had metastasized and I would need to see a specialist immediately. And so began a panicked, emotional, and ultimately futile attempt to purchase an individual health insurance policy. Unsympathetic denial letters came one by one citing that verboten pre-existing condition, until I had exhausted applying for every policy on the market. To insurance companies, I was more of a liability than a human being worthy of saving.

Agonizingly aware of the cancer cells flourishing in my unprotected organs, I went to my local office of Health and Human Services and asked for help from the state. While my application was under review, I made an appointment with a melanoma specialist, fully prepared to bankrupt myself and my entire family to begin treatment.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Fortunate enough to live in California, a state that accepted federal funding for expansion of Medicaid, I qualified for Medi-Cal assistance and could access care at UCSF, one of the foremost research hospitals in the country. When the free market failed me, it was the government and the Affordable Care Act that saved me.

Almost four years later, I am still not cured of my cancer. To date, I’ve had a craniotomy and brain radiation, a small bowel resection, close to 50 immunotherapy infusions, months of targeted therapy, eight emergency room visits, more than a dozen PET/CT and brain MRIs, a colonoscopy, hundreds of blood draws and countless ultrasounds, CTs, EKGs and more, all adding up to seven figures of treatment costs. Without the ACA, I would be dead and my family would have gone bankrupt trying to save me.

My country has made a huge investment in me over the past four years, something I will never take for granted. I am forever grateful to President Obama for fighting to pass the ACA and protect it from the Republican onslaught over the years. With the life I was spared, my hope is to make a positive and impactful return on that investment. But like many young people in similar situations, and the millions who now have insurance through the ACA, the future is uncertain.

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