In Tampa U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services asks for support of health care law

02/02/12 Janelle Irwin
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After only 18-months in office, President Barack Obama signed a health care reform law that stops insurance companies from denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. But now he’s up for re-election. His rival opponents say they will work to have it overturned if they are elected. This afternoon, Kathleen Sebelius asked for support of the Affordable Care Act at the new USF Health building in downtown Tampa.

Under some provisions of President Obama’s health care law, children with congenital health issues can no longer be denied insurance coverage. In 2014, that benefit will extend to adults. Vanessa Mishkit is the clinical director for the central Hillsborough Healthy Start Project. She’s also the mother of a son who was born with a host of birth defects.

“We would get letters that said he had exhausted his oxygen limit. I couldn’t imagine somebody exhausting their oxygen limit. When we would get dropped, when the job would change insurances, we would get dropped from one insurance plan, but would not get picked up for the next insurance plan because he had a pre-existing illness.”

Her son is now an adult, but still struggles with his health and insurance is hard to come by. In 2014 when the pre-existing condition clause of the health care law takes effect for adults, he will finally be covered. But Mishkit said it’s too late; the years of appealing to insurance companies contributed to her marriage failing.

"You know when you sign that paper that says you’re responsible when the insurance company doesn’t pay? Well, when you get an $80,000 bill, a $100,000 bill and you are responsible for it while you go through the appeal process that wreaks havoc on a family."

Secretary Sebelius wants to make sure parents like Vanessa Mishkit get access to affordable medical services.

"It’s no longer legal for our children, if they were born with a pre-existing condition, to be locked out of the insurance market. Insurance companies can’t, any longer, deny coverage to children. By 2014, they won’t be able to deny anyone coverage based on a pre-existing health condition and that’s good news. Being a woman will no longer be a pre-existing condition. Those days are coming to an end and that’s also very good news."

But Republicans hate the Affordable Care Act. Presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have said if they are elected to replace President Obama this November they will also replace his so-called Obamacare. Sebelius said citizens need to take a stand against those opponents.

"I think you see every Republican challenger saying day one they will repeal the health care law. What’s going to be, I think, a conversation that constituents need to have with those candidates is, does that mean then you turn this back over to the insurance companies."

And she said it’s people whose lives have been changed by the early stages of the Affordable Care Act that need to speak up.

"Are we going to say to moms like Vanessa, your child will maybe be covered in the future and maybe never be covered because of his pre-existing health condition? Kick all the 25-year-olds off their parents’ plans. I mean, repealing at this point has some real, live consequences for a lot of people who are now taking advantage of the benefits. So, I think that discussion is important to have."

But Obama’s health care law has been demonized by terms like death panels and claims that some people would actually lose coverage. Sebelius said opponents of the law often don’t really know what it does.

"You can say to people, you know, do you like the healthcare law? Many of them well say, oh, absolutely not. That’s terrible. And then you say, well, do you think insurance companies should have to insure folks regardless of a pre-existing condition? Oh, I like that. Well, what about adding wellness benefits to Medicare and eliminating co-pays. Oh, I like that. Well, what about under age 26. So, once people understand what’s in the bill they think it’s a pretty good idea. And that’s really a job that we have to do is getting real information, real-time to folks and connecting with people."

Another provision in the health care law allows adults up to 26-years-old to remain on their parents’ insurance plans. According to Sebelius, two and a half million young adults have access to insurance that wouldn’t have if the law had not been enacted. Sara Petrick earned a Masters of Public Health degree, but is still struggling.

"Currently I am working two part-time jobs, barely making a little bit more than minimum wage and fortunately, thank God, I am covered under my parents’ plan. Most recently, I had a gum condition. My gums started bleeding and I recognized the importance of preventative medicine. So, fortunately I was able to receive the care and the medication I needed."

Secretary Sebelius spoke to an audience of medical professionals and a panel of experts at the Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation which is set to open any day. She said educational facilities like CAMLS are an important part of enforcing the new healthcare law because they can make medicine more efficient.

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