A few years ago, Kathryn, a mom from Mandan, had her beautiful daughter, Valerie. Valerie was dangerously premature -- under two pounds, struggling for her life, and needed immediate open-heart surgery. Valerie is doing well thanks to the care of doctors and specialists who have been able to make sure she gets the best possible start in life, but she could face a lifetime of health challenges. Now Kathryn is worried about the medical bills that will continue to pile up in the years to come, especially since this administration is moving to allow health insurance companies to once again discriminate against folks with preexisting conditions, just like Valerie has.
The U.S. Department of Justice recently announced it will no longer defend in court critical health care protections for seniors, children, and those with preexisting conditions across North Dakota. That’s just wrong. Under current federal law, health insurers are prohibited from denying coverage or charging more for individuals with pre-existing conditions. But this administration wants to change that.
Simply put, the administration is turning its back on some of the most at-risk Americans – millions of individuals, children, and seniors. And its action, or lack thereof, could lead to insurance companies charging more or denying coverage to those with preexisting conditions like Valerie, putting her health and her family’s financial security at risk.
Upwards of 130 million Americans under the age of 65 have what health insurance companies consider a ‘preexisting condition’ – ranging from heart disease, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s to pregnancy. If you don’t have a pre-existing condition yourself, chances are you know plenty of folks who do – there are over 300,000 in North Dakota alone.
Our goal should be to make it easier for Americans to get affordable health care – not harder. That’s why since I joined the U.S. Senate, I’ve been working on to find ways to make the health reform law work better for families and businesses in North Dakota, while also making health care more accessible and affordable. To protect North Dakotans with preexisting conditions, I recently helped introduce a resolution that would allow the Senate Legal Counsel to step in to fill the shoes of the U.S. Justice Department. This action would enable us to fight back and defend affordable health coverage for sick, older, and at-risk North Dakotans, including those with preexisting conditions – because this administration won’t do that important job anymore.
It’s one of many common sense actions I’ve taken over the past several years to support affordable, quality health care for North Dakotans and make the health reform law work better for North Dakota families and businesses. I’ve also helped lead the effort to successfully delay the Health Insurance Tax to keep costs down for North Dakota families and small businesses, and I’ve worked in good faith with a group of Republicans and Democrats on a package of pragmatic reforms that would stabilize the health insurance market and address rising health care costs. Soon after I joined the Senate, I created my health care advisory board – comprised of health care leaders across North Dakota. We have met regularly since 2013 to talk about health care in the state and how to improve the health reform law.
I hear stories like Valerie’s nearly every day, and I know personally what it’s like to face tough odds. Eighteen years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the blessings of good medical care and a strong support network of family and friends, I beat it. Today, I’m a cancer survivor. But I’m also one of the thousands of North Dakotans with a preexisting condition that would enable an insurance company to charge me more for basic care or deny me coverage altogether if the administration continues down this path.
With so many North Dakotans – including children – in need of quality health care who now risk losing access to it, I’m continuing to fight for pragmatic solutions to make health care more affordable and accessible. That’s just the right thing to do. And it’s something we should all be able to agree on.
Heitkamp represents North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.