Skip to main content

Cancer survivor: Obamacare got me covered

By Lori Greenstein Bremner
updated 2:06 PM EST, Thu November 21, 2013
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
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT