After deciding not to push forward with an unpopular and flawed health care bill in March, the US House is considering a new version of the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Yet many women in the US rely on the ACA and on Planned Parenthood, which would be blocked from receiving Medicaid reimbursements—essentially defunding it-- under current drafts of the bill. Here are a few of their stories. Their experiences are not unique – rather they illustrate why comprehensive health coverage for women and their families is essential.
Jacquelyn, New Orleans
Jacquelyn won on Wheel of Fortune – then used the winnings to pay off $25,000 in medical bills.
She was uninsured when she underwent surgery for endometriosis, a painful condition in which uterine tissue grows outside the uterus. The operation put her $25,000 in debt. “I had tears of joy and relief to be able to put that debt behind me.”
But the problems persisted and it wasn’t until Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards expanded Medicaid in July 2016 that she was finally able to afford the health care she needed.
Once fully insured, she went to Planned Parenthood, where she now works, for an IUD to keep from bleeding every day. Insurance also covers trips to the dermatologist because she has a history with melanoma. Previously, a visit to remove suspicious tissue would cost her $500 out of pocket, she said.
“I am terrified that Congress will take away Medicaid expansion because most people on Medicaid are like me, what I call the poor middle class,” she said. “We are people who have student debt and medical debt and who work 40-50 hours a week to keep our heads above water.”
Bridget*, 35, New Orleans
For Bridget, a waitress in New Orleans, mammograms are essential: “I have a family history of cancer, and several years ago the doctors found a lump in my breast. I am required to get mammograms two times a year and often need an appointment for follow up.”
Since the Affordable Car Act, she has no longer had to borrow money for the test.
Before the ACA, she bought insurance for about $250 a month, but almost nothing was covered - not even one mammogram a year. Today, she pays $280 a month for insurance that covers both her and her husband, and they have broad coverage.
Not having good health insurance had a negative impact on her life: “Once I had chest pains and I didn’t to the doctor because I couldn’t afford it. I went to Winn-Dixie [a grocery store] and got a free blood pressure test and then just hoped for the best.”
She worries about getting cancer, the way others in her family have. “I can’t explain what it feels like to know that if that happens, I will have health insurance,” she said. “It is literally a life saver, and I honestly don’t know what I would do without it.”
Nicole, 25, Colorado Springs
The Planned Parenthood office Nicole visited in Colorado Springs was shot up by a gunman in 2015 leaving three people dead. But, she said, she felt safer there than at any other health clinic in town.
She began going to Planned Parenthood at age 16, first for emergency contraception, also called the morning after pill, then to get birth control and testing for sexually transmitted infections.
After Planned Parenthood was closed because of the shooting, Nicole was sexually assaulted. “A guy took advantage of me,” she said. “I was freaking out- I didn’t know what to do.”
Treatment in a private clinic was too expensive – Nicole said she was told that tests would cost at least $500. She couldn’t afford that because the deductible on the health insurance she had at work was too high. So she went to a hospital emergency room instead.
“I went to the hospital and saw a doctor and they made me feel like a slut,” she said. “I didn’t even want to tell them what happened, they were so mean about me just asking for a test. I felt alone and it was really bad.”
She never feels that way at a Planned Parenthood clinic. She has moved since 2015, and goes to a different Planned Parenthood clinic for care. “I actually feel good about myself, that I am getting checked and taking care of my health.”
Deborah, 49, Peoria, Arizona
For Deborah, the ACA has been essential in helping her care for her sons, as well as for her own chronic psoriatic arthritis.
When Deborah’s oldest son, Andrew, began having problems with addiction, her family’s insurance didn’t cover mental health care. He entered a rehab program in 2013, but Deborah and her husband had to pay $10,000 up front for 30 days. That money would have gone to their mortgage payments. They didn’t make a payment for a year, and had to sell their house on a short sale in lieu of foreclosure. “We lost our home for medical care to save my son’s life,” she said.
In 2014 the family bought coverage under the ACA, and Andrew went back into rehab – for a $1,000 co-pay. “$1,000 vs $10,000 – that’s a huge difference,” she said.
Andrew died from an overdose in 2016, and Deborah wishes they had better health care before the ACA. It would have meant better treatment and counseling for Andrew, she thinks. “How do you tell your child you can’t take them for care because you can’t afford it?”
Her younger son, Blake, 13, has Down Syndrome. Deborah is able to buy him additional health coverage under the ACA to supplement the Medicaid coverage he receives for his disability, so he can get physical therapy. Previously, “we couldn’t get anyone to treat him under Medicaid,” she said.
Deborah now receives health insurance through an employer, but the essential benefits guaranteed under the ACA remains important for ensuring she and her son get the care they need.
“The ACA has meant access to affordable health. To being able to take care of my family. Moms out there aren’t going to have that available to them now.”
*Not her real names in order to protect her privacy