Guest Columnist

'Pre-existing condition' shouldn't be a reason to deny care

Chris Petersen raises hogs on his farm south of Clear Lake. (Gazette Archives)
Chris Petersen raises hogs on his farm south of Clear Lake. (Gazette Archives)

For my family, “pre-existing conditions” are more than a technicality. They’re a matter of life or death, of sickness or health.

My wife and I are Iowa family farmers. I have diabetes and Kristi has a heart murmur. Without the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and its guarantees for people with pre-existing conditions, there’d be nothing standing between us and the insurance corporations.

We know firsthand what happens when insurance corporations can discriminate based on a pre-existing condition. Years ago, I had health coverage through an outside job and was diagnosed with a nickel-sized hernia that didn’t require immediate surgery.

When farming started looking up, I began to farm full-time and applied for my own insurance. My wife and I disclosed our health conditions and were approved. Each month we religiously paid the $700 premium.

After about a year, I decided to fix the hernia and was pre-approved for surgery. Then the bills started. After months of back-and-forth, my insurer denied the claim, citing a pre-existing condition. They dropped me.

Then my wife had pre-approved tests for her heart, and the insurer dropped her, too. They cited “discrepancies” between medical records and the insurance forms we’d filled out two years earlier.

The discrepancies? A one-inch difference in her height and the fact that she’d gained 12 pounds.

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It took us 14 years to pay those medical bills with no help from the insurer. After years of sending monthly premium payments, they left us holding the bag.

Then came the ACA. Kristi and I finally got quality, affordable health care, like many other small-business owners. The law isn’t perfect, but it provided a measure of stability we needed to keep our business going strong.

Now the Trump administration and some Republicans in Congress are attacking the ACA again. They want to let insurance corporations discriminate against people with pre-existing conditions, like my wife and me.

This comes after Republicans in Congress voted to pass the new tax bill — a huge giveaway to giant corporations that did nothing for farmers like us.

This tax bill doesn’t just funnel billions in preferential tax treatment to megacorporations. It also eliminates the ACA’s penalty for not having health insurance. Trump is using that as an excuse to ask a judge to throw out the ACA’s pre-existing condition protections, too. A new Trump-appointed Supreme Court justice like Brett Kavanaugh just might help him do it.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress are advancing a budget that cuts health care and raises prices for all of us enrolled in Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA.

Let’s not go backward.

Any politician who believes in thriving family farms and small businesses should protect people with pre-existing conditions and support universal health care.

Any politician who believes in us should reverse the Republican corporate tax giveaways and adopt fair taxes that fund public investments and help fuel small business development.

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And any politician who supports us should reject the finger-pointing. No more blaming our hard times on immigrants, people of color, or on those who seem “different.” Our strength comes from working together — on health care and all the other things that matter in our lives.

Last year, the GOP Congress tried to repeal our health care. People of all walks of life stopped them. Believe me, like my friends and neighbors, this family farmer is persistent. We’re not done fighting for everyone to get the health care they need.

• Chris Petersen is an independent family farmer near Clear Lake. He’s a leader with the Main Street Alliance, a national small business network. Distributed by OtherWords.org.

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