During Tuesday night’s CNN debate on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ted Cruz (R-TX) argued about the health-care law’s merits—including its provision allowing young people to stay on their parents’ insurance plans until age 26.
Cruz deflected when Sanders pointed out that eliminating “every word” of the ACA, as Cruz has said he would do, means doing away with popular aspects of the law such as this. Instead, Cruz suggested that “there’s no group in America that’s been hurt more by Obamacare than young people.” It’s a refrain we often hear from conservatives in their seemingly never-ending zeal to roll back a law that has helped more than 20 million people in the United States get insurance.
But I know better.
That’s because when I was 23, that same provision of the law lauded by Sanders and dismissed by Cruz likely helped save my life. At the time, I had just finished graduate school and moved halfway across the country for a new job. The full-time position I took offered health insurance, but only at the end of a three-month probationary period. In the chaos of the transition I allowed my health insurance to temporarily lapse, thinking I would soon be able to get it through my employer after being dropped from the plan I was on when I completed school.
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Just before I was allowed to get insurance through work, I was suddenly laid off. I had no job, no health insurance, and little support in a new city. And to make matters worse, I had begun to notice that something wasn’t quite right about a cut on my head that didn’t seem to be healing.
Luckily, I was able to jump back on my father’s health insurance thanks to the provision allowing most young adults to do so up until the age of 26. Like an estimated 6.1 million other people in the United States between the ages of 19 and 25, the ACA allowed me to get insurance at a time when young adults were previously disproportionately likely to be uninsured.
As soon as I had coverage, I was able to see a doctor at a local community clinic. He was concerned enough to make sure I got in to see a dermatologist for a biopsy the next day.
Within a week I got the call: It was skin cancer.
I was able to quickly get the care I needed thanks to the health insurance I received through my father’s plan, but I’ll never forget what it was like to hear the doctor say how lucky I was to have caught the cancer when I did. While it’s impossible to say what exactly would have happened to my health had this provision not been in place, I can say for sure that I would have delayed care until I had the insurance I needed to pay for it.
And the knowledge that things likely would have gone a different way had I graduated just a few years earlier before the health-care law was implemented, when I wouldn’t have been able to use my father’s insurance plan, is something that hits me in the gut every time I hear a debate about the ACA.
During the Sanders-Cruz debate, the two lawmakers discussed what is at stake for the millions of people in the country covered under the health-care law. It’s something I know about all too well, having lived it myself. But the truth is my story is hardly remarkable. I am one of many.
I’m lucky to have been able to get the care I needed—and that skin cancer is not considered a pre-existing condition like other cancers. Otherwise, the repeal of the ACA might also mean that insurers could deny me coverage or charge me higher premiums because of my medical history.
Sanders perhaps said it best during his opening statement at the debate: “Is the ACA perfect? No. Nobody believes that it is. And nobody believes that we do not need to improve it.” The ACA is not without faults, but that’s why some Democrats have asked Republicans to work with them to improve it.
It’s also true that some Republicans do say they’d keep these two aforementioned parts of the health-care law, and it isn’t hard to imagine why. After all, 85 percent of Americans support the provision regarding young adults and 69 percent support prohibiting insurance companies from discriminating based on pre-existing conditions, according to a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Some Republican plans to attempt to replace the ACA even include these things.
But it’s difficult to take the GOP at their word on the matter when Senate Republicans already rejected amendments to a reconciliation bill that would have safeguarded these protections. Not to mention that the party still has no actual replacement plan or timeline to put one into place.