U.S. must keep its promise on health care
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Tue March 27, 2012
At a clinic last week in Miami, a doctor tends to a patient who said her pre-existing condition made it impossible to find insurance.
- Writers: Health coverage easy to get if you're healthy, not so if you're already sick
- They say cancer, diabetes, heart disease patients very vulnerable to insurance cutoffs
- They say mandate is essential to providing patient protections; keeps costs down
- Writers: Supreme Court should affirm Americans' access to affordable, adequate care
Editor's note: Nancy Brown is CEO of the American Heart Association, Larry Hausner is CEO of the American Diabetes Association, and John R. Seffrin is CEO of the American Cancer Society and American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
(CNN) -- Health coverage is easy to get if you're healthy. The problem is when you're sick or have a history of illness.
For decades, people with life-threatening chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease or stroke faced numerous barriers to getting the care they needed. Insurers could deny coverage to anyone with a pre-existing condition, terminate coverage when the cost of a patient's care exceeded arbitrary dollar limits, or raise premiums to unaffordable levels in response to a diagnosis. As a result, patients had to skip or cut short their treatment because of costs, or go deeply into debt to pay for needed care.
The patient protections enacted into law in 2010 are changing that, enabling more Americans to afford lifesaving care. These protections provide patients with the best chance to beat their illness. When fully implemented in 2014, they will require insurers to cover people with pre-existing conditions, eliminate dollar limits on the coverage a patient can receive and ban the practice of inflating premiums for people with health concerns.
The law makes these protections possible by requiring that most Americans buy health insurance. By ensuring that coverage extends both to healthy people, who are less expensive to insure, and to those who are sick, who cost more, the law helps to keep costs down for those who need care the most. Unfortunately, the "individual responsibility" requirement has been attacked as unconstitutional, posing a grave threat to the law's critical patient protections. Federal appeals courts are divided on the issue, and the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments on the matter this week.
Opinion: Health reform could survive loss of individual mandate
Our organizations, which represent tens of millions of people across the country with life-threatening chronic diseases, together submitted a friend-of-the-court brief asserting that the individual responsibility provision is essential to preserving the protections that patients desperately need and deserve.
We already know what a health care system without such a requirement looks like: Many healthy Americans opt not to buy health coverage until they are ill, and costs skyrocket as insurance pools fill with people in urgent need of treatment and care. People with pre-existing conditions are charged exorbitant rates for health coverage, putting critical care out of reach for many American families. As a result, many people with a chronic illness must resort to emergency room care, which lowers their chances of surviving their illness and drives up costs system-wide.
Opinion: Why health care reform law is unconstitutional
Many of those who want the individual responsibility requirement struck down also express support for the patient protections that the provision makes possible. Several states have tried such an approach by enacting insurance protections for patients with pre-existing conditions without compelling healthy people to enter the insurance market as well. These states are now among the most expensive in the country in which to buy insurance, and two of them, Kentucky and New Hampshire, ended up repealing those protections because of increasingly unaffordable premiums.
Half of all non-elderly Americans are living with a pre-existing medical condition. They need the protection from discrimination by insurers that the Affordable Care Act provides. Our hope is that the Supreme Court will enable all Americans to benefit from the promise of access to guaranteed, affordable and adequate insurance. It is a promise our nation must keep.
Follow us on Twitter: @CNNOpinion
Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nancy Brown, Larry Hausner and John Seffrin.
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
Peter Bergen says there's a great deal of misinformation about the counterterrorism policies President Obama will address in a speech Thursday.
updated 8:47 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
Two decades ago, Joshua Prager was one of more than 20 people in a terrible bus crash. The author revisits the scene to see how others have made sense of the event.
updated 4:20 PM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
Joshua Wurman says tornado deaths can be reduced, prediction and preparedness can be improved, but it's up to individuals to make sure they heed warnings and have a safe place to go.
updated 10:57 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
Ruben Navarette says under Obama, a record number of immigrants have been deported. So why is his drive for immigration reform now in conflict with enforcement officials?
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
Nathan Gunter says Okies have learned to love the big sky, but also to watch it carefully for signs of trouble: When the sky betrays us, we cope by helping one another.
updated 9:33 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
LZ Granderson says the heroics of teachers who shielded kids in the Oklahoma tornado remind us of what they do for our country
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
Tornado researcher Louis Wicker says progress is being made on understanding and predicting extreme storms, but if you hear a warning, take cover immediately
updated 7:29 AM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
The masked henchmen grabbed three fingers on each of the Syrian political cartoonist's hands and pulled them back all the way -- so far that they cracked.
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
Meg Urry says loss of the failing, planet-finding Kepler satellite would be huge for NASA--but one way or another, it's a matter of time before we find signs of life on other worlds
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
Yahoo isn't buying a technology company so much as the community that uses it, Douglas Rushkoff says
updated 11:15 AM EDT, Tue May 21, 2013
Joseph Nye says it's far too early to write off the rest of the president's second term because of the IRS controversy, other issues
updated 7:32 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton write that people pass up opportunities to spend their money to avoid disagreeable tasks
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Sun May 19, 2013
Bob Greene on how 18th century Americans tried to make sense of the day with no sun
updated 8:57 PM EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
With guest Rep. Keith Ellison, John Avlon, Margaret Hoover and Dean Obeidallah discuss the president's scandal trifecta, hope for immigration and what Jolie's revelation means for women.
updated 1:09 PM EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
The press has turned on President Obama with a vengeance, writes Howard Kurtz
updated 2:01 PM EDT, Sat May 18, 2013
Donna Brazile says our democracy is endangered, not by the Russians, North Korea, Iran or even terrorists. To quote Pogo: "We have met the enemy and he is us."
updated 1:59 PM EDT, Sat May 18, 2013
Photographer Arne Svenson defends his show "Neighbors," portraits of the occupants of a building near him taken through their windows.
updated 9:37 AM EDT, Mon May 20, 2013
Theater critic Kevin Williamson was kicked out of a play when he took the phone away from an audience member and threw it. He says it was worth it.
updated 10:25 AM EDT, Sat May 18, 2013
Gil Welch says women must not panic over Angelina Jolie's mastectomies: 99% of women don't carry the BRCA1 gene.
updated 4:52 AM EDT, Sat May 18, 2013
JR's "Inside Out" project brings public spaces alive with giant representations of people
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Fri May 17, 2013
Roger Colinvaux says the IRS scandal is fundamentally about disclosure of donors, not tax-exempt status.
updated 11:14 AM EDT, Thu May 16, 2013
Maia Goodell says the military should use civil legal remedies on sexual assault cases.