Skip to main content

Cancer survivor: Obamacare got me covered

By Lori Greenstein Bremner
November 21, 2013 -- Updated 1906 GMT (0306 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Lori Greenstein Bremner says she had problems getting insurance after surviving cancer
  • Bremner says she settled for pricey health policy due to her pre-existing condition
  • She says premium hikes left her scaling back coverage for herself and sons to a minimum
  • With Obamacare, she says she has cheaper, better plan and no one asked about cancer

Editor's note: Lori Greenstein Bremner is a cancer survivor, a single mother and a self-employed real estate agent in Sonoma, California, who struggled to obtain and afford health insurance for more than three decades after her diagnosis. She is on the volunteer board of directors of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.

(CNN) -- As a 36-year cancer survivor, I am watching with great interest as the debate rages over whether the Affordable Care Act strengthens the individual insurance market, as the law's supporters contend, or dismantles it, as critics say. Having been repeatedly denied health coverage I needed and wanted to buy because of my pre-existing condition, I know that provisions of the law can dramatically improve the quality and cost of insurance for people shopping for coverage on their own.

I was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia as a college student. After nearly five years of aggressive chemotherapy, immunotherapy, bone marrow harvests and more, I was cancer-free. My cancer has never returned, but since then I have waged a battle of a different kind -- a three-decade struggle to obtain quality, affordable coverage.

I spent a few years on my parents' health plan as a student -- long before the new law guaranteed that parents' policies can cover their children through age 26. Later I joined my husband's work-based plan.

Lori Greenstein Bremner
Lori Greenstein Bremner

It wasn't until he got laid off and our COBRA coverage expired that I discovered how difficult it would be to buy a health plan on my own. I shopped around, but as soon as I revealed my pre-existing condition, I was denied coverage -- no further questions asked. My appeals were unsuccessful, and insurers wouldn't even sell me a plan at some sky-high price. I went to California's high-risk pool for uninsured people with pre-existing conditions, but the option to pay $1,800 a month for flimsy coverage that would have left my three young children uninsured was not really an option at all.

After months of searching, I found an expensive plan with limited benefits through a professional association, and ever since I have paid to be a member of the organization just so I can maintain coverage. For 15 years my sons and I have struggled to afford the plan's annual deductibles of up to $3,000 per person and monthly premiums that have risen about 30% each year.

Every couple of years I reduced our coverage and gave up our trusted providers to avoid yet another premium increase, until we reached the plan's minimum coverage level. Now a single mom with three sons to put through college, I've had to make some very tough choices.

Obamacare's youth problem
Cruz spars with Cuomo on Obamacare

The situation is similar for the millions of uninsured people across the country who are living with cancer or another pre-existing condition. For decades, we have been denied coverage outright, charged exorbitantly expensive premiums for limited coverage and forced to pay tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for lifesaving care.

It's no wonder that high medical bills are a major cause of family bankruptcies, or that seriously ill patients have died because they could not get the treatment that could have extended or even saved their life.

The health care law offers people like me a choice of health plans sold in online marketplaces in every state. Each plan must cover essential benefits needed to prevent and treat cancer or another serious disease, and no plan can turn down someone with a pre-existing condition or charge them more than they would a healthy person.

No one will have coverage revoked if he or she gets sick or terminated if his or her plan's coverage reaches an arbitrary limit. Patients will not have to pay for preventive tests such as mammograms, and many people with low or moderate incomes could get tax credits that help them afford coverage.

I visited California's marketplace, CoveredCA.com, on October 1 -- the day it went live. At first I encountered technical problems, as so many others have, that were caused in part by the large number of people trying to find coverage. But I knew I had until December 15 to enroll for coverage to begin January 1. Recently I tried again and enrolled in my chosen plan in about 15 minutes.

In January, for the first time since my diagnosis 36 years ago, I will have an individual health plan that offers quality coverage for me and my family. I will save $628 every month on premiums. Best of all -- I wasn't even asked if I've ever had cancer.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Lori Greenstein Bremner.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0242 GMT (1042 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
ADVERTISEMENT