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It's Time to Junk "Junk Insurance"

We should be working to strengthen the protections of the Affordable Care Act and expand health care to all, not punch holes in the foundation.

In the richest country in the world, nobody should ever go without the care they need. (Photo: Getty Images/Stock Photo/Malte Mueller)

In the richest country in the world, nobody should ever go without the care they need. (Photo: Getty Images/Stock Photo/Malte Mueller)

About four years ago, I was a 40 year old healthy, successful, and busy small business owner. Then I walked into a doctor’s office with a nagging cough, and walked out as a stage 4 cancer patient.

I’m still here today, writing this, because the Affordable Care Act saved my life. I never could have otherwise afforded the half million dollars it took to get me through six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation to be in remission today.

I am especially fortunate that I had ACA insurance plans, as of 2014 (as soon as I could sign up). Because prior to the Affordable Care Act, I had “junk insurance.” If I still had that, I would be bankrupt or dead.

Health care is a right, not a privilege. Everyone deserves to be able to see a doctor when they need to.

Most Americans are like how I was—not insurance experts. So we make the easiest choice: pick the cheapest in a sea of confusing health care options.

At the time, I had no idea my plans were junk. It’s only after the fact that my curiosity led me to googling. I was shocked and appalled to find out how many of those short term policy providers I used had been sued by cancer patients when they refused to cover needed treatments, or cut off their policies altogether through a manipulative process called recission.

Recission, banned under the ACA, is when lawyers go through your health insurance policy with a fine-tooth comb and figure out where you filled out something wrong. If they found something, they would use it as an administrative loophole to avoid paying for your treatment. Apparently, it’s cheaper to pay a team of lawyers for a few hours than reimburse  months of expensive chemotherapy.

That could have been me. There are still too many consumers out there, who will never know they have been ripped off until they desperately need care. They will run into annual limits, lifetime limits, treatments that are only partially covered or not covered at all --or the insurance companies can get really creative and terminate their policy altogether.

I can understand the impulse to lower health insurance costs by lowering standards. Sure, if you don’t require insurance companies to cover expensive things or people needing expensive care, it gets a lot cheaper.

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But what good is homeowners’ insurance that covers cosmetic damage, but fails to protect you when your house burns down? Is that not defeating the point of insurance?

Our government’s responsibility is to protect consumers, especially in a market that is as confusing and hard to understand as health insurance coverage. But according to the GAO, the previous administration pushed these junk plans that left Americans at risk.

The Biden administration and the new HHS Secretary, Xavier Becerra, could take action now to stop these plans. I support H.R. 1875 in the House, and the No Junk Plans Act in the Senate. But why wait?

Health care is a right, not a privilege. Everyone deserves to be able to see a doctor when they need to. We should be working to strengthen the protections of the Affordable Care Act and expand health care to all, not punch holes in the foundation.

With the special enrollment period going on right now, desperate Americans are currently getting ripped off, as you’re reading this.

The American Rescue Plan helped make ACA plans more affordable. That’s a start. We also need to protect people from being taken advantage of by junk insurance, by bringing these policies up to the strong ACA standards. Bad actors are advertising now, using the American Rescue Plan news and open enrollment extension to fleece more Americans.

In the richest country in the world, nobody should ever go without the care they need. And they certainly shouldn’t be hoodwinked into buying a lemon. Please, HHS and the Biden administration, take action now administratively to stop junk health insurance plans.

Laura Packard

Laura Packard is a Denver-based health care advocate and founder of Health Care Voices, a non-profit grassroots organization for adults with serious medical conditions, senior advisor to Be a Hero and co-chair of Health Care Voter. Follow her on Twitter: @lpackard

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