Caitlin Rowley was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease five years ago. The chronic inflammatory autoimmune bowel disease requires regular care.
“There is currently no cure for Crohn’s disease, but there are treatments that can improve your quality of life,” she said. “I have missed hundreds of days of school, undergone multiple surgeries and even had a large part of my small intestine removed.”
Rowley, a health and society sophomore, receives quality care because the Affordable Care Act prohibits her insurance company from denying or upcharging coverage because of her pre-existing condition.
That could all change soon. Rowley fears a post-ACA world in which her diagnosis means denial.
The Department of Justice has opted not to defend the ACA against the 20 states suing the federal government over the law, telling Congress it supports overturning the individual mandate and pre-existing condition protections. The lawsuit, led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, aims to dismantle the ACA — and tens of thousands of students across the UT System could suffer if it is successful.
“Even with quality insurance, I still deal with barriers,” Rowley said. “It is terrifying to think about a day (when) I may be fully denied coverage for the treatment I need to live.”
Along with protecting Longhorns like Caitlin, the ACA expands the coverage that students receive through the University. UT offers students health insurance plans at discounted rates, and its plans added an extra $100,000 in coverage after the ACA passed in 2010. Today, 26,000 students and 13,000 dependents can access up to $500,000 in coverage through the UT System.
“The ACA put in place consumer protections to ensure that all health plans met what was called ‘minimum essential coverage,’” said Howarth-Moore, director of human resources at UT. She said the plan became more robust as a direct result of the ACA.
Laura Chambers, executive director of employee benefits for the UT System, elaborates: “The ACA changed a small number of coverage points within the program, which were all positive for those enrolled,” she said.
The additional coverage provides essential services and care for our most underserved communities.
“Under the ACA, all (student) health plans needed to provide coverage for certain reproductive health coverages — just one example would be the birth control pill,” Howarth-Moore highlighted. “There was also added coverage for certain conditions that involve transgender coverage, because under the ACA that was a requirement of all health plans.”
That coverage could be eliminated soon.
If the lawsuit strikes down the ACA, legal barriers to denying coverage and requirements for reproductive and transgender care will no longer exist, and students with pre-existing conditions like Caitlin could be abandoned.
Health care is esoteric and often painfully boring. When we talk about insurance in technical terms, however, it is easy to forget the human consequences this debate carries. The outcome of this lawsuit will decide the fate of people’s lives. We must value patients over pocketbooks.
Ken Paxton works to dismantle students’ coverage six blocks from their dorm rooms. We are in a unique position to make our concerns visible. Students should stress to Ken Paxton the importance of modeling UT’s commitment to quality care at (512) 463-2100. Student institutions such as Student Government’s State Relations Agency ought to prioritize this. Tell him that our state ought to support reproductive and transgender care - not because a law requires it, but because Longhorns need it. We ought to implore the decision makers so close to our community to defend our health - not just to save the Affordable Care Act, but to save our lives.
Chandler is a journalism and government sophomore from Houston.