Access to affordable, quality healthcare can literally mean the difference between life or death. I would not have survived lung cancer without recent advancements in lung cancer treatments or being offered the quality healthcare that allowed me to get those treatments. Unfortunately, as anyone with cancer or a chronic condition can attest, finding quality, affordable healthcare coverage can be a real challenge. It was for me.

When I was first diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in 2018, I was an established business owner of 25 years and not only had great coverage myself, but I also provided health insurance for my hundreds of employees over the years. I knew how important health insurance was so as I grew my business, there were many times that I didn’t take a salary so that I could cover the costs of my employee’s health insurance. After my diagnosis, my impaired health and chemotherapy treatments made it difficult to run my business, which contributed to my need to sell. You would think after years of hard work and sacrifice I should have been able to take a break to focus on my treatment and recovery. But I needed health insurance, so I accepted a much lesser role within the company that purchased my business. 

I went from being a key decision maker and successful business owner to a lower-level employee. The job was still demanding, psychologically demoralizing and because I was now also fighting lung cancer, I was perpetually exhausted—all because I needed the health insurance. I couldn’t even really celebrate my remission because I was still worried about affording and having access to quality health insurance. Being chained to a job, robbed me of my dignity and any joy from surviving cancer was crushed. I really tried to make it work but I could not sustain it. I am now unemployed and on COBRA health insurance.

What I can’t leave behind is the continued need for affordable healthcare. When my COBRA runs out, I could be faced with paying insurance prices that are more than double my current payments. My reality, and that of millions of Americans, is that health insurance requires a steady income or a large savings account. Living without health insurance is not an option, anyone can get lung cancer. I am still a lung cancer patient and need regular checkups and lung scans. I also have a surgically inserted port that might be used for future treatment or need to be removed someday. When you’re being treated for lung cancer, it’s not easy or even possible at times to hold down a job; but for most of us, not working isn’t an option because we need the health insurance to survive. 

March 23, 2021 marks 11 years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was signed into law. This landmark legislation created ways for millions of Americans to access quality and affordable healthcare. This includes expanding state Medicaid programs and provide financial assistance to help Americans afford their premiums. The ACA also created a baseline of what insurance plans were required to cover and prohibited lifetime and annual limits on those services. But there is still more work to be done so all Americans can get the coverage they need. This year’s LUNG FORCE Advocacy Day focused on opening the conversation about this important topic. Held virtually on March 17, one of the top initiatives that LUNG FORCE Heroes spoke with members of Congress about was ensuring that everyone has affordable, adequate and accessible healthcare.

Lung cancer can happen to anyone, no matter your background, your bank account, or your dreams—it can happen to you. Congress and the Administration have taken the first step by expanding the Affordable Care Act’s premium subsidies in the COVID-19 relief bill passed earlier this month. Both Congress and President Biden need to continue to work to make quality healthcare affordable for all Americans.

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